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Fanmail hits a bland patch around track ten and never really recovers, except for "Lovesick," whose nifty rhythm track is half-constructed of telephone bleeps, busy signals, and other sonic artifacts from the telecommunication age. But that doesn't stop this record from being a fine pop album that skillfully negotiates the requirements of urban contemporary radio and MTV. Just remember: It's the beats, stupid.

-- Alec Hanley Bemis

Wimme
Gierran
(Northside)

You've gotta give Wimme points for nerve. His approach to joiking, the sing-song chanting of the Scandinavian Arctic Sami people, limns that of a wild-eyed, mushroom-zonked shaman. Yet he looks like the kind of crewcut-capped, bespectacled, cubicle nerd Dilbert wouldn't speak to. If the cosmetics aren't enough of a jolt, the material on Wimme's latest American release, Gierran, surely is -- as when his voice re-emerges long past the presumed end of "Samil" ("The Importance of Moss") after six excruciating minutes of dead-ass silence . Not even Yoko Ono or Meredith Monk can top such startling strangeness.

Wisely the producers chose to posit "Samil" at the end of Gierran, freeing the business end for adventuresome material that's more than merely philosophically compelling. Joined by fellow Finns who blend acoustic and synthetic instruments so deftly you can barely pull them apart, Wimme Saari explores traditional song-chants that evoke the craggy geography and no-nonsense lifestyle of the antipodal region once known as Lapland. But that's like calling the Inuit people Eskimos, so the reindeer-herding inhabitants of the Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish subpolar scrub now go by Sami, their preferred name.

A far cry from the hardanger fiddle-based music we usually hear from Finland, Gierran falls together around chants, recitations, groans, and trance-state babblings that can be troubling to the monotony-challenged when the accompanying instrumental backing is sparse, as on the poetic piece "Arvedavgi." In the main, though, squawking saxes and manic synthesizer riffs give Gierran a goofy power that can be unexpectedly affecting. "Rievssat" ("Snow Goose") and "Vuojan" ("Draft Reindeer") are fine traditional joik chants spotlighting the half-spoken, half-sung, raspy vocal style rooted so far back in ancient times the term "pre-Christian" doesn't even apply. But the biggest fun comes from the raging drone psychedelia of "Oinnahus" ("Vision") and my favorite of the batch, "Boska" ("Angelica Archangelica"), which conjures Gyuto monks and dispeptic Tuvans sharing green eggs and ham with John Williams on Planet Gong.

-- Bob Tarte

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