Siinai, ‘Olympic Games’ (Splendour)
Release Date: February 14, 2012
Siinai are Finland’s greatest krautrock band. Which is no frivolous praise — the country’s crisp air is currently pulsing with electric muesli motorik. Besides this Helsinki quartet, there’s the shimmering restraint-core trio K-X-P, pulse-pop melodramatists Zebra and Snake, and Mercury Revved-up space cases Joensuu 1685. These bands share members and managers and most likely record collections, as they’re seemingly fueled by a similar penchant for night-driving grooves and cloud-swallowing hooks. Rhythmically, it’s Can, it’s Neu!, it’s La Dusseldorf, it’s chin-stroke, bong-hit, zone-out, bliss-out, nod-off, stargazing comedowns. But these bands’ almost comically oversized melodies — especially Siinai’s — are straight from the Church of Rock: Born to Run, Heroes, Heaven Up Here, The Joshua Tree, Neon Bible, and, um, American Idiot.
Lest you miss this underlying, sing-when-you’re-winning melodic theme (cf. Bruce’s lucky day, Bono’s beautiful day, Bowie’s hero just for one day), Siinai paint every single square inch of Olympic Games with, yes, Olympic imagery. Here are the eight song titles in increasing order of triumphalism: “Marathon,” “Anthem 3,” “Olympic Fire,” “Anthem 1+2,” “Finish Line,” “Victory,” “Mt. Olympos,” “Munich 1972.” The last one takes the gold because it’s a human-interest story: Despite the Munich massacre, the 1972 Olympics also saw Finnish runner Lasse Virén break the 10K world record after falling down on the 12th lap, which I’m guessing means all kinds of “fuck yeah” for your Finnish pride.
The Olympics are a perfect, near-cloying, probably too-easy conduit for what these dudes are trying to evoke: something celebratory, full of fanfare, and redolent of a vague, universal nostalgia. Unlike, say, chillwave’s stiff and limiting referents, it’s not tethered to a time or generation or place. It’s no coincidence that kindred spirits Fuck Buttons named their most goosebumpy track “Olympians,” and equally chiming beam-rockers Foals went with “Olympic Airwaves.” There’s no “sound” associated with the Games, except maybe Vangelis stuff from Chariots of Fire. And packed with synthesizers from winner’s circle to nosebleed seats, there’s plenty of that sort of thing to go around here.
To wit, opener “Anthem 1+2″ (a title that doesn’t get any less hilarious the more we think about it) starts out with a solid 4:57 of drumless Vangelis/Jean Michel Jarre swoosh-whoosh, the motivating stuff that all those Nike Original Run mixes should’ve kicked off with. In fact, until the roiling “Marathon,” Olympic Games is mostly cymbal rolls and free-piano twinkle and space junk, like the Necks trying their best to unwind under a suffocating, saturated wash of drone. From there, its Berlin-era Bowie with heeeeeeyyyyyyyaaaaaaaoooooo replacing the lyrics and Spacemen 3-gone-“Space Olympics” guitars pushing the extremes but never winning a pissing match with the keyboards. Synth melodies rise to their highest peaks and then just sort of stay there because they can.
It really is the synths that push this from kraut-psych-cruise-control curiosity to unabashed triumph. Hums wash over pulses, layers beget layers, the “band,” i.e., the guys playing drums and guitars, constantly seems like they’re losing some battle to a Mechazilla orgasmatron synth monster (no, we’re not gonna bite into the competition metaphor, thanks). It’s the same way Bilinda Butcher’s voice constantly lost its war to My Bloody Valentine’s guitars. Olympic Games takes its melodic cues from rock music, but never fully gives itself over to the genre’s forbidden fruit — the temptation to sing actual words or have loud choruses or end the album’s catchiest song with anything less than 60 seconds of pulseless jet engine blast.
There’s an unapologetic optimism running rampant in sections of indie rock (Arcade Fire, Frightened Rabbit, Matt & Kim); heavy metal (Torche, Helms Alee, Liturgy); and hip-hop (the anthemic, washed out beats behind Main Attrakionz, G-Side, and Lil B) these days. Siinai try to paint that feeling on the grandest scale they can without renting out the Polyphonic Spree for the afternoon. They’re backing Spencer Krug (Frog Eyes/Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown) for his Moonface project’s upcoming Heartbreaking Bravery album, and the result might as well be U2 skydiving into the Puppy Bowl. Push, push, push, go, go, go! You can do it! You’re the best!