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Nordic Experiments
Irina Manta • A review of the album Exile! by Vuk
April 2003

Those who expect standard pop music fare should certainly stay away from the debut work “Exile!” whose artist’s name Vuk hides none other than one of Yale’s own, Finnish student Emily Cheeger, MC ’05. Vuk provides the voice, lyrics, and music composition for the album, and also plays most of the music consisting of guitar, percussion, and experimental sounds herself. It is with a mix of anguish and excitement that one enters her unique work.

The first song “Exile!” throws one into a gothic cathedral made of organ sound sand lyrics that speak of finding shelter in another’s “down-trodden garden.” While the music takes a while to get used to and fully appreciate, the range of Vuk’s voice haunts the listener many hours after the giving her CD a first try. One senses the influence of artists like fellow Nordic Björk in songs such as “Log- Book,” which speaks of lost love that now “glow[s] in the ashes of a firestrewn land.” In “Something Sinister,” Vuk describes mysterious spirits in her grandmother’s house and allows a more traditional, jazzy approach to take over and lend weight to her words that the “goddamn most sinisterest thing” is lurking around.

Some pieces, such as “Veronica,” may be less appealing to listeners with its signifi- Vuk Exile! Verdura Records cant reliance on spoken lyrics. The risk of monotony is, partially alleviated in the last verse, both through its beautiful lyrics “I find you not in the eyes of a preacher / Nor do I know you in a painted face / You are to me resplendent in your shroud / The imprint of your features / A brilliant mystery” and its unexpected sounds of tongues snapping against the insides of cheeks. The song, along with the drum-heavy “Daylight” do not engage the listener as fully as some of the other pieces whose repeated patterns are interrupted more frequently by novel background sounds, such as the ghost-like howling in “Exile!”

“Quebec,” a song about participating in the left-wing anarchist protest in Canada, manages to get away with repeating its own patterns. It does so through Vuk’s passionate expression of her anger and the tension inherent in the piece that reminds one of the musical “Les Misérables” with its revolutionary tone and underlying theme of endangered love. Recreating protest marches through metallic banging and drums, as well as an accusatory and sarcastic voice, Vuk shows the emotional motives and conflicts that can be experienced in the violently charged atmosphere. The lyrics say: “And when I lay outside the fields, outside the Wall / I longed for nothing but for you to be safe / And I almost felt guilty for asking in prayer for something / That would come between you and the fighting of our mutual enemies.” The conflict between personal love and fighting for a cause is an old one, but is especially heightened when one feels critical toward the movement in the first place. The narrator’s role as an outcast in the conflict before her is reiterated in the lines “And I didn’t throw a single cobblestone / And I wondered whether I was there to fight or to watch over you” and leaves her “cheated of both love and revolution,” with final doubts as to the lover’s loyalty if she refused to engage in the violence.

After the unrelenting rhythm of “Quebec”, the listener welcomes the musical change provided by “The Bridge,” a vocal piece that borrows from the style of African-American spirituals. Like previous songs, it interweaves several related themes in a short time span, beginning with the idea of deliverance through suicide, to a message of tolerance (“Lord have mercy on the living and the dying / And have mercy on the way we treat each other”) ending with “If I had my way / I’d have left this town long ago and / I’d tear this building down.” She thus subtly addresses the possibility that suicide itself does not spring from an actual desire for death, but as the only solution to escape pain. Rather than perform the external harm one’s anger longs to enact, the path of self-destruction is chosen. The fall from the bridge, however, becomes the ultimate rejection of society: “And I’m gonna stare down into the waters / And if you see me goin’ down / To the bridge at the end / You will know I am looking to be free.”

In case one has not yet been convinced of Vuk’s diversity of musical styles, her last song consists of a carefully discordant tango whose French lyrics along with the use of accordion and whistling take the listener by surprise. The lines that translate to “If I could only send you one degree of the fever that you raise in me” seem to wrap up the project of Vuk’s CD: to bring across the intense emotions inside the artist’s mind. Vuk’s album, while containing some flaws such as occasional overburdening patterns and problems in technical sound quality, represents a brilliant and complicated work by a woman who has at this early stage of her career already proven her ability to pioneer experimental music. She has described her project as follows: “With my organ, my harmonium, my scrap-metal, my sampler and my vocal chords as instruments, I seek to explore the musical medium with a relentless passion for the idiosyncratic.” She has certainly done so with great success; curious minds can rest assured that they will not regret buying her album and will look forward to future works from this promising artist.

Irina Manta, Publisher, is a senior in Branford College.


 
 

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