Rubicon Songs is the debut album of Selma Juudit Alessandra, a four-piece group based in Helsinki led by composer and singer Selma Savolainen. The group describes the sound they produce as ‘nostalgic and experimental indie-hybrid’. It’s going to be a nightmare for the record shop owner who likes to display his wares by genre but what does it mean? For a start, I can happily report that the music bears no resemblance to Oasis and their ilk! The rhythm section is jazzy and includes double bass. Synthesiser keyboards and voices dominate the ethereal sound with references to the 1980s and hints of prog and folk.
The sombre, crystalline “Rubicon Song” introduces the album with the muted voice intertwining with the swirling synths. The songs build to grandeur as the muscular rhythm section slowly asserts itself. I detect elements of folky progressive rock here. The uptempo “Spineless” follows with grinding distorted double bass. The dance-y feel abruptly cuts into a syncopated disjointed chorus which I find a little jarring. On “Spring Song”, voice and synth noodling wander on the ether. It’s reminiscent of 80s dream pop, partly because of their use of contemporary synthesisers.
Drums burst through on the sublime “Miles Apart” with Drum & Bass style broken beat patterns, though set low in the mix to emphasise the track’s ethereal sound. It’s the stand out track on this release. Some more exciting drumming on “Spook Hour” accompanied by bowed bass as its claustrophobic repetitive synth hook takes hold. The balladic, haunting “Metro” follows, featuring a melancholic Rhodes piano solo. The more uptempo “Request Song” is not so subtle. It lacks the precision of the other tunes and grates a little after a few hearings. The smooth “Stray” has a folky feel and is gentle and moving. Especially enjoyable is the vocal harmonising towards the end of this song. The beautiful dense sweep of soaring vocals and layers of keyboards on “Back Here” completes the album.
This album explores deep experiences such as grief, so the music, as you’d expect, is mostly solemn. It is more successful where the songs are slow-paced and moody. Unfortunately, the more uptempo tracks feel a little forced and are less convincing but overall this is an accomplished and skilled first outing for the band. And it does sound impressive, as the use of retro synths and the layered vocals blend well with the aggressive, (largely) acoustic rhythm section. When listening, there are echoes of the past but primarily this music is forward-looking. So I guess that’s what it means.