Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
It’s tough to make money in the independent music game. All of the artists here on the Independent Spotlight know that, and I imagine my readers do as well. So what do you do when you’re at the top of your game, but struggling to push album sales? Well, if you’re Finnish guitarist Elmo Karjalainen, you make a free album. Then, you call it ‘The Free Guitar Record.’
Karjalainen has made a name for himself over the years in his home country performing in the Finnish metal band, Deathlike Silence. More recently, his solo endeavors have been remarkably well received, such as the critically acclaimed ‘Unintelligent Designs.’ ‘The Free Guitar Record’ is a follow-up to that album, one where Karjalainen has thrown all monetary pursuits to the side. Apart from donations here and there, he’s not making a living off this music. He is damn passionate about it, though, and he’s hoping that passion will propel him forward.
I love the idea of making free independent music; Jukebox Podcast listeners know this all too well, since I went on a whole explanation last month of why lesser-known indie artists should release music for free. This selfless approach to music suits Karjalainen incredibly well; ‘The Free Guitar Record’ feels uninhibited by self-absorption or commercial pursuits. It’s a straight up guitar rocker record, sure to get you going if you’re a person who digs a good jam.
The album opens up with an instrumental interlude, one that showcases Karjalainen’s prowess right out of the gate. It’s a long instrumental, though, and overstays its welcome after a few minutes. The minor blunder is quickly recovered on the eclectic ‘Don’t Quit Yer Day Job,’ an experimental tune with a lot of meat on the bone. ‘Clark-San,’ the following track, isn’t actually a song. It’s just an Englishman announcing the fact he’s on a record. It’s actually dryly funny, in that wonderful English way. I’m not sure if dry humor was the intent of ‘Clark-San,’ but I got a kick out of it that way.
‘Intercontinental Breakfast’ continues Karjalainen’s pursuit for innovative riffs and song titles. It’s not my favorite track because it feels a bit stale quickly, but ‘She Sleeps on the Moon’ picks up that ball and runs with it. That latter song is beautiful, an atmospheric jam doused in reverb and synthesizers. It’s a gorgeous ballad and it’s certainly the highlight of the first half of ‘The Free Guitar Record.’
If you were getting lulled to sleep by the delicate ‘She Sleeps on the Moon,’ ‘Algorhythm’ is sure as hell going to wake you right back up. Karjalainen’s performance on each track is reminiscent of classic metal stylings. Also, his banter with a solid backing band shouldn’t go unnoticed, either. The bassist and drummer here are right on target and without them, this record wouldn’t be one half as interesting.
‘Noises’ is another oddball interlude, showcasing what seems to be a soundtrack for one of Thom Yorke’s daydreams. The classic rock-tinged ‘The Gentle Art of Listening’ then follows, shredding up and down in cascading waves of epicness. ‘The Bolero Unravels’ feels like the pinnacle of the second act of the album, toying with unique styles and melodies that feel fresh and compelling. Finally, the, well... relaxing ‘Relax’ closes the collection in blissful solitude.
‘The Free Guitar Record’ is most certainly worth the price of admission, or lack thereof. In fact, if you dig it, you should drop a few bucks Karjalainen’s way. A lot of effort went into this piece and it’s a wonderful experience. With that said, Karjalainen doesn’t fully escape the main issue instrumental solo acts have: remaining consistently interesting throughout. These songs are all fine and good in doses, but the entire experience in one sitting melds together into a blanket of guitar noodling and shredding. It’s a bit difficult to differentiate some of the tracks as well. This isn’t exclusive to Karjalainen, almost every person in his shoes struggles with this. He navigates those waters better than most, though, and ‘The Free Guitar Album’ isn’t a bad exhibition of that. It’s not an astounding record, but it’s a very solid effort that you’ll likely find more rewarding in smaller, concentrated doses.
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