By Rowan Horowitz
I’d like to start this review with a story of how I discovered this artist. I wouldn’t actually have ever known this music existed if it weren’t for my darling international internet friends. Days after the Eurovision final results were announced, I was flooded with posts from international people talking about the winner and who should have won. Now this artist, Käärijä from Finland, should have won by all means. But that’s drama I shouldn’t be getting into right now.
A song titled “Cha Cha Cha” was Käärijä’s submission to the Eurovision Song Contest, and it took the world by storm. The song is a mix of rap bordering on metal with some traditional Nordic synth and dance elements mixed in there. I heard it and took a liking to it immediately. I figured I should check out some of this guy’s other songs, and that is when I discovered the Fantasista album. Käärijä was inspired by Rammstein, which explains a great deal about where the sound of his songs comes from. This album is one of Käärijä’s earlier albums, and it has a really good sound – a mix between rap and rock – that I was really drawn to and enjoy. All of the songs on this album are at least 2 minutes long (barring the intro song) which has been a rarity in the last 5 years as a lot of songs are getting shorter and shorter, hovering around the one-minute mark.
A guide to how I’ll be reviewing each song:
Title (Finnish) – Title (English)
Summary of the song
Translation of the chorus/most catchy part
At the end, I’ll sum up my thoughts about the album as a whole.
Intro – Intro
This song (if it can even be called that – it’s not even 50 seconds long!) introduces not only the first song on the album but the feel of the album itself. Someone is seemingly calling to Käärijä, and when he arrives he suggests that he should make a song, or even, an album. He agrees with himself and calls for the recording equipment to be turned on. This felt to me like a condensed version of what might have actually happened in real life, though it seems too streamlined to be entirely truthful.
Fantasista – Fantastic
According to translations from lyricstranslate.com, this song is about partying hard while trying to respect neighbors’ quiet hours.
This song flowed perfectly from “Intro,” which makes it a good first song on the album. It felt fast and frantic to me, like someone who is trying to throw a party without being too loud. It has a nice record scratch sound effect which I really enjoy, and it goes nicely with the not-exactly-musical backing track as a filler for when there are no words. It is one of the two collaboration songs on the album, and the piece from the other contributing artist does not feel out of place as it does in some songs. The latter half of the song has this synth-like instrument under the verses which I liked a lot as I was giving this album a re-listen. The chorus of this song repeats a lot which makes it easier to feel grounded in such a hectic and fast-paced song. This song also features the “dying fade-out” as I like to call it.
“Good stuff/Although you get shit thrown to your neck/It may be possible to get hit by a sandal/And with these wages you don’t get to f*cking brag but/Still this is so fantastic/Good stuff/So fantastic.”
ROCK ROCK – ROCK ROCK
This song seems to have the sentiment that even though Käärijä has had a song flop before, he is prepared to get back up again and keep making music, and no one can deter him from that goal.
The song starts slow and ominous, as can be expected from a sort of diss track to an unnamed adversary. Eventually, more music gets added and it feels like a Käärijä song with a bit of musicality interspersed with the rap. This song does have more of a hardcore rock, possibly edging into a metal sort of feel to it, but it is not completely one or the other. This song, along with most other songs on the album, has a part that is easy to learn. Once you learn it, you won’t feel nearly as lost when listening to these Finnish songs.
“(What what woah)/I’m on f*cking fire, put the recording on chop-chop/(I’m on f*cking fire)/Turn up the fan cause it’s f*cking hot hot/(The booth is on fire again)/I’m on f*cking fire, keep the recording on nonstop/We’re only missing hot rod, as well as the herbs, but it’s still f*cking Rock Rock.”
Yhtä Vailla – So Close
This is a song about someone with a crippling gambling addiction who cannot seem to realize that no matter how hard they try, winning horse races is not a skill that one can just hone. It is pure chance and will leave you feeling like you were “so close” every time.
This song starts with a muffled feel but clears up after a moment. It starts with a good memorable bit, which also happens to be the chorus. In my opinion, the chorus and pre-chorus are pretty easy to recognize which makes it hard to get “lost” in the song. This is one of my favorite songs on the album, and I feel that this song is just too good not to like. There’s nothing particularly special about this song, it just has really good vibes. In addition to good vibes, it’s also got a good bass, and includes the record scratch noise that Fantasista had.
“A new set of tickets, please/Keep ’em coming until I’m left without a single yen, ah/The scratching is making my joints ache/But I’m someone who acts/No time to rest, the game has started/Argh/So close/So close.”
Mic Mac – Mic Mac
This song is very much about nostalgia. Käärijä is remembering being a child and having fun with his friend: going to his grandmother’s house, eating sweet buns, and looking at photo albums. If you choose to watch this song on the Käärijä YouTube topic channel, there is a music video for this song. The song starts with the dial-up noise under the music track for maximum nostalgia, which might give a hint to even an international listener that this song is meant to be nostalgic. One of the few songs by Käärijä that includes actual singing and not only rapping with music underneath. Even if there is lots of autotune, it is nice to hear Käärijä sing. This song has an enjoyable bassline as well as a nice, identifiable chorus that is easy to sing along to. There is also a good call-and-response bit at the end if you choose not to watch the music video (the song gets cut off at the end of the music video.)
“The gravel road was left behind as I arrived at grandma’s place (aa-ha-hah)/The fresh batch of sweet buns hadn’t finished baking so I went ahead to wait in her living room (aa-ha-hah)/And I grabbed it from the bureau to kill some time (aa-aa-ha)/The photo album to refresh those precious memories from my childhood/Back when we were wearing Mic Mac, we were Mic Mac bros (hey)/Back when we were wearing Mic Mac, we were Mic Mac bros!”
Aikuinen – An Adult
This song is about someone who didn’t go to college or trade school, or anything after high school at all. At first, they lament about how they aren’t like their peers and don’t seem to be getting anywhere in life, but then they realize that they’re an adult in their own way. This song is also a collaboration song, but I couldn’t seem to find any evidence of that in the translation. The song starts with echo-y vocalizing before the vocals start. The bass is less hard than in other songs, and the vocals seem to follow the beat more. In the other songs, the beat seemed to follow the vocals which gave it a sort of rushed feeling which made for higher-energy songs. But that doesn’t seem to be the goal of this song. It is definitely slower-paced than some of the other songs on this album and also features some amazing singing from our guy Kärtsäri (self-appointed nickname for Käärijä). This song also has an identifiable chorus, which seems to be a staple of Käärijä songs, which is great for an international audience. This song also features a beat with a “sick, followable yelling bit” (cited directly from my notes.) This song was better than I expected, feeling fun and bouncy. I’m sad I always skipped it on my previous listens.
“I’m an adult but in my own way/I’m an adult but in my own way.”
Kiertava Sirkus – Traveling Circus
This song seems to be a response to people telling Käärijä that he should feel special for getting big due to his songs. The song explains how people like masons and cobblers are just as important as entertainers and that when people say things like that to Käärijä, they make him feel like a monkey in a traveling circus. The song starts with a heavy bass and the announcer, telling Käärijä that it’s time to hit the road. It has a nice swing rhythm and a heavy bass which makes the song have a dark feel to it. The song has got a nice followable chorus with a memorable bit in the middle. It also includes the record scratch noise as well as a monkey sound effect (from the reference to the monkey in the traveling circus) and some piano bits, which I was not expecting. Overall, those sound effects are the most special bit about the song to me as I knew that I had listened to this song before but couldn’t remember how it went before I played it again. Just because it doesn’t stand out, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t good!
“When I rock rock microphone/It doesn’t make a big difference, those ones can flex/Who do extra for the society but I don’t flex/since the fact is that/(Is that, is that, is that) I’m just a monkey in this traveling circus.”
Online – Online
This song is about someone who realizes the dangers of being chronically online and assures their friends that even though they are not online, they are just fine. This song starts a bit muffled as well (this seems to be a style that Käärijä or his producer likes). It is also one that includes singing, which for some reason is always a shocker to me. The song is more on the rap side of things, especially compared to the last song in terms of the verses, but the pre-chorus is the sing-y bit. When I wrote the notes, I also felt it was very important to note that the drums are very good. This song has a memorable chorus as well that was so easy for me to remember that I would be muttering it even when I wasn’t listening to the song.
“I am alright/Even if I traveled the seas without internet/I am alright/And I’ll send you a message in a bottle when I have time/I am alright (I am alright)/Hey I am alright (I am alright)/Though I’m not online (though I’m not online)/(I am alright)/So don’t stress/If I am not reachable/I don’t feel like snapping (no)/Or texting/(4x) Though I’m not online, I’m still alright.”
Hirtta Kiinni – Go Haywire
This song is about someone who usually has a long temper, but all of these little things bring them up to their breaking point! It is another one of my favorite songs on this album (partially because I feel it is relatable as hell.) This song has no intro and gets right into the pre-chorus. It isn’t exactly sing-y either, but it feels like it follows the backing track well instead of just words on top of a beat. This song has a nice bass, as well as a sort of beat drop at every chorus. I am a fan of the deep voice (from when he says “When I have a deficiency of caffeine.”) There is also some fun background screaming that “really adds to the atmosphere especially if you have no idea what the song is about” (me from my notes again) as well as the “perkele!” guy that you can hear from around the 2nd chorus onwards. This song also includes the “dying fade-out” voice at the end.
“I have a long temper/Until a certain point/It takes a lot, to get to me/Usually people don’t get there/But then, when this dude has an angry cranky day/So damn the devil, then I go haywire.”
Viulunkieli – A String of a Violin
Before I get into the nature of the song, I feel that it is important to note that the title of the song refers to a Finnish saying of things being “as tight as a violin string.”
This song is about a guy who is just trying to have a good time at the bar with his friends but the atmosphere is too tense for anyone to have any fun. It starts with the pre-chorus as well with no intro. The song has a sort of musical backing with an echo-y feel at first. Both the backing track and the song itself felt bouncy to me. In addition to having a sick bass and good drums, the song also has “occasional ominous cello stabs.” The chorus is pretty epic and followable (just one word: KIREE!) This song also includes Kari, Käärijä’s mysterious best friend (who does not exist in real life.)
“The atmosphere is rubbing at the bar/Half of people leaving, half of them trying to escape/I got my salary and my wallet is thick/so I’ll buy everyone a round because the atmosphere here is/TENSE/So damn tense/TENSE/Like a string of a violin, damn out of tune.”
Z – Z
As the last song on this album, it feels fitting that it is a song about trying to catch the last Z-train home (the Z-train is a train in Finland from Helsinki out to the suburbs.) However, Käärijä seems to be encountering a problem with his ticket… the song also appears to be an apology song to a significant other for Käärijä’s long hours. This song starts with some talking over music. It also includes a synth-type instrument which seems more prominent in this song than in others. This song is one where I felt like the beat was following the rap more than the rap was following the beat. There was also some yelling in the background that I found funny. I must make mention of the excellent synth again because of just how many times I mentioned it in my notes. In addition to the synth, there are also some good drums. This song also has a good, repetitive chorus that is memorable. There is a lot of talking that is mixed so well that I thought someone walked into my room while I was listening to the song. Kudos to you, Käärijä’s mixing guy. Upon a second listen, this song was better than I gave it credit for the first time. The song ends with a train whistle and maniacal laughter from Käärijä, who was able to travel on the Z train with only a child’s ticket.
“It’s going to be late again, don’t wait for me/I try not to wake you up when I get home, yeah/Baby, don’t stress it, tomorrow I’ll be all yours/As long as I get these things finished/I will drive back to you/(3x) Last Z-train to home/As long as there are no problems with VR.”
In conclusion, this album, even if it wasn’t intended to be this way, seems to tell the story of someone who wanted to make music, have fun with his friends, and find his own meaning for adulthood. Wanting to shirk the status of being famous to just sit with his friends and reminisce on the past, getting drunk and taking the last train home. What’s crazy to me is that without the translations, I never would have gotten this message out of the album. On its surface, it is just another mix of good tunes. Maybe that’s why Käärijä’s music is able to reach such a wide range of people: the Finns listen for the message and the international audience listens for the sick beats. I think that this album and Cha Cha Cha are a fine introduction for anyone looking to get into Käärijä’s music. Thank you for indulging in my extremely long review of Fantasista by Käärijä.