HomeRecording Review: Fork's "Helsinki"

msmindylee's picture

Two questions kept coming to mind while listening to this recent offering from the Finnish foursome known as Fork (Kasper Ramström, Mia Hafrén, Mia Renwall and Jonte Ramsten). First, at what point does the element of production cease to be an enhancement and take its place as an instrument in its own right? And second, as a cappella music continues to innovate and reinvent, is there a point at which electronic enhancement transforms the music into another form of a cappella, or does it morph into… well… accompanied music? I don’t actually have an answer to these questions at this point, but pondering them is an interesting intellectual exercise.

There’s no doubt, these four can sing. With seamless vocal blend, impeccable diction, and interesting arrangements (with the notable exception of a cover of “You Oughta Know,” which sadly eschewed the infectiously bouncy Flea bass line in favor of a rhythmic but somewhat monotone underpinning), in the realm of musicianship they can easily stand with the best of the best. They particularly shine in their original music – most evident with an electrifying “Circle ‘Round the Sun” – but add an unusual take on some familiar tunes (the above-mentioned “You Oughta Know” and a sadly prescient homage to the late great King of Pop, “Smooth Criminal”).

And while I’d never mistake their charming Finnish-accented American English as coming from a native, they certainly do better at it than anyone I know in the US might manage while singing in Finnish.

It makes me feel a bit like a curmudgeon shouting at kids on my lawn, though, when I find myself thinking that this level of musicianship doesn’t need as much electronic enhancement as it has been given here. Ultimately, this album left me feeling as if the really “good stuff” that these talented musicians could create with minimal processing had somehow been kept back, under a thin covering, with a few tantalizing glimpses offered to let me know what I was missing. I’m open to the possibility that I’m merely missing the point – after all, if my 17-year-old nephew has me on his friends list on Facebook, I can’t be that unhip, can I?

Either way, I don’t mind sitting on this fence too much. It’s reasonably comfortable for the time being, and perhaps another listen to this album – or two or three – will help me decide which side to slide off on.

Have you heard "Helsinki"? Let me know what you think.


Check out the Mouth Off podcast for another spin on this recording: www.mouthoffshow.com/2009/06/mouth-off-061409/

About the author:
Melinda L. Thomas was a piano performance major at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and at San Francisco State University.  She has been singing all her life as well, and has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Conservatory Opera Theatre, Sacred and Profane Chamber Chorus, and was a founding member of Voci women's chamber chorus.  She has also been a music director for many theatrical productions, including Godspell, Grease, Pippin, West Side Story, and Dracula: The Musical?  These days, she sings with an early music a cappella quintet called Harmonium.


the debate continues....

i love how this pops up at least once a week either here or on rarb. if there were ever an album to debate it on, it would be Helsinki, but I mean come on.... does "Leave Me Alone" not give you goosebumps the first few times you hear it? I guess what I was hoping for here is a review that focused on what was actually there, instead of what you were hoping would be there. Any way we could stage a giant battle royale between those who prefer less mixing and those who love when a song is filled with effects? Just an idea....

Eric Talley
Alumnus ASU Lost In Sound

"hoping for"?

I'm not sure I was "hoping for" anything at all - I had no expectations of this group whatsoever, never having heard them before.  I thought what I said was that what I heard left me wanting to hear more of what was really there, no?  If not, perhaps I wasn't as clear as I meant to be.

Mixing? No problem for me.  But come on, when you go to their website and their sound engineer is listed on the same line and in the same font as the four singers, as the fifth member of the group, kinda... doesn't that make you go "hmmm"?

Maybe it doesn't, and maybe I'm just an old fart... heh.

what is a cappella?

It's definitely still an issue for many, many people.  Using effects is 'cheating' to some.  What makes a cappella so yummy to many fans is the raw, bare voice that is so versatile and pure, singing music they can relate to.

I for one don't get upset when a guitar player uses effects; what is important is what they do with it, what the style of music is, and if I am attracted to it or not.  That's how I feel about a cappella: if it's good music, I don't care what boxes or cables or backflips it's running through.  Since a cappella is an instrumentation, not a genre, and since we can (theoretically) do any kind of music a cappella, _of course_ we can do heavy metal a cappella!  The genre includes effects.  If you don't like metal, you won't like it, but does that mean we shouldn't encourage it to be done?

I dunno about the label

I'm with you in that I don't care about what effects are used or not used if I like the music. There are no "rules" for me, as far what is acceptable a cappella and what is not. Hell, my own "a cappella" group occasionally utilizes (me playing) guitar! But I just don't get the whole "heavy metal" thing WRT Fork. They really aren't heavy metal any more than some of the more effects-heavy House Jacks stuff is, or effects-era Five o'Clock Shadow were. It's just the amount of effects and the agression with which it's presented (and somewhat the song choices), and their look, but they don't seem or feel to be doing any actual METAL music, per se. Metal's pretty specific, and they're not it, as far as I can tell. That's not good or bad - it (that label) seems rather inaccurate.

Amy Malkoff http://www.amymalkoff.com/harmony CASA (Contemporary A Cappella Society) Program Manager + Director of Web Content - http://www.casa.org Judge - ICCA, ICHSA, Harmony Sweepstakes, etc.

no argument here

Yep, and actually, that crossed my mind as something I wanted to mention when I was writing this, but somehow it escaped before I captured it.  This group reminded me a lot more of glam rock than it did heavy metal.  I thought perhaps they were trying to make the point that this is a cappella out on the edge (one edge of many, heh).

You are totally right!

They are not metal.  You are right.  I tend to think of them as metal, I think as a reaction to what I initially remember most about seeing them live: they did, in fact, sing a couple metal songs, and live, when the sound system is roaring like a cyclone, it was most definitely METAL.  But just for a few songs; most of the time it was just RAWK.  Sometimes sweet loving awesomeness in the key of yummy.  

But you're right, their material, their presentation, not metal.  I just think metal when my adrenaline kicks in.

interesting point

and that's one side of the fence for me.  Let me be clear, I don't have any "objection" to what Fork does, it doesn't offend me, I don't think they're committing some grave sin against the gods of a cappella or anything.  But I guess listening to this album brought me up against what really attracts me to a cappella music in the first place, which is what unbelievable things can be done with the voice in and of itself.  I felt as though these four have really great voices and know how to use them, but that the processing ended up turning them into something that didn't seem as thrilling to me.  Vive la difference, and all that, dude.

Every genre of music has something to recommend it, as far as I'm concerned.  I may not consider myself a "fan" of heavy metal, or Schoenberg, or Hawaiian music (*shudder*), but I can appreciate it when it's done well anyway.  And I would never suggest that it shouldn't be encouraged.  More music = always better, in my book.

A n00b perspective

As a new director many of the debates on here go straight to my head....i.e. Should I do it or not too?  What will people think if I don't do the latest Thing™?  What if I'm not cool enough to be part of the CASA.org community?

So I've made up a mantra: "To thine own self be true."  (Like it?  You can't use it...it's mine.)

I don't know yet which of these various AcaDebate issues I'm going to take up (effects, originals, choreography, etc.) but as a group you have to do what you do and just let the people take sides.  Personally I would rather see less taking sides as there's room in the AcaVerse for groups with effects as well as groups without.  As Mr. Tim said, a lot of these issues come down to what kind of group you want to be.  There's no "right" or "wrong".  I think it helps to remember that to large portions of the world, instrument bands are "right" and A Cappella is "wrong" (I'm basing that statement on comparitive ticket/album sales).

C'mon now...lets sing some 5-part Kum Bah Yah together.  Tim could you give us a rhythm and bass-line to start us out?

bass line:

dm dm dm dm dm doo dm dm dm dibbit

gesture of peace?

haha, by no means was i trying to be offensive in my post, although a second read leads me to understand why it may look that way. in my experience, this debate seems to surface ALL THE TIME. immediately, I thought about how great a big, showdown debate would be. I totally agree that there are plenty of groups out there who sing raw music with little effects and sound amazing at it. Let's not take that away, in the same way that FORK shouldn't be told to not sing their way. Honestly, all I wanted in the review was more... mostly out of curiousity because I'm a big FORK fan and love hearing what others think. You are absolutely right, though, that without effects, these guys are killer vocalists who would still sound amazing. It all goes back to personal preference on a group to group basis. A lot of the general public has been faced with a certain stereotype of a cappella, thanks to Andy in The Office, the brother in The Break-Up, etc. I think that some of FORK's music presents another, edgier side to things that non-acaheads would enjoy. I like to convert people whenever I get the chance, and I find that a lot of people are amazed with the music I let them listen to, and the fact that we have the ability to morph those voices into those sounds. let the debate continue.....

Eric Talley
Alumnus ASU Lost In Sound

i'm all about the peace, dude

Didn't mean to imply that there was a peace offering needed.  We're talking about a cappella, man, what could be more fun than that?  Even if we see it differently.  It's all good.

This is my first time outta the box writing a CD review - like, ever - so I'm grateful for the feedback and maybe next time I can offer that "more" that you wanted - hokay?


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