Album Review of
Viimane Suusataja

Written by Joe Ross
January 26, 2022 - 11:49am EST
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Within the Baltic fringe, Estonia is a country that gained independence from the USSR in 1991. Now aligned more with the west, Estonia has musical traditions that belong to the culture of northern Europe. Estonians have a strong national consciousness and pride, often played out at folk and song festivals. Estonia and Finland are related linguistically and musically, and this album Viimane Suusataja was the result of recording sessions between 2018-2020 in both countries.   

Together since 2014,whimsy, wit and quirkiness are trademarks of the popular Estonia-based nu-folk duo of Ramo Teder and Marko Veisson, who call themselves Puuluup, a fitting moniker of their own invention that combines the Estonian/Finnish word “Puu” (tree or wood) with “Luup” (an incidental respelling of “Loop”). With two male voices that blend delightfully well together, inspired by eclectic musical influences, they create an enchanting melodic groove with loopers and 4-stringed bowed lyres called hiiu kannels. Also known as the talharpa or tagelharpa (tail-hair harp), the name refers to the twisted horsehair from which its strings were made. Both Teder and Veisson play talharpas built traditionally from solid blocks of wood by master luthier Rauno Nieminen.   Whether bowed, plucked, brushed or tapped, Puuluup’s two rustic instruments create a surprisingly wide variety of sonic atmospherics, especially when looped and processed.

Embellishing the songs with warm, personable lyrical vocalizing that at times replicates a full choir, contemporary technology facilitates the ancient tones and percussive elements. While most lyrics are in Estonian, I’m told that the two guys are quite humorous with unusual, sometimes surreal, songs about animals, trees, sports, lakes, loneliness, travels, or whatever. Their press material states, “The music may have a dancing beat, or resemble a dark film soundtrack, spy around in the chambers of ancient Talharpa players on Vormsi Island, or travel to far-away lands. We draw inspiration from Vormsi nights, trams in November, junkies in love, criminals from Odessa and Antonio Vivaldi.” 

When I saw Puuluup‘s album on the world music charts, that led to a discovery of their charming “neo-zombie-post-folk” music. To fully experience their charm, pull up some video of them at events like Estonia’s Viljandi Folk Music Festival where their danceable grooves get crowds clapping and singing, before Marko Veisson enthusiastically crowd surfs the audience.  Liner notes also include some quaint, folksy drawings by Ramo Teder.

With their upbeat, peculiar, jaunty and charismatic music, Puuluup’s dialogue keeps one foot in tradition and another in a futuristic world. Dressed conservatively in dark suits with white shirts, Ramo Teder and Marko Veisson are very hip and have let their collaborative musical vision blossom on tour to the USA, China, Germany, Finland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia. On each track of Viimane Suusataja, musical memories and improvisation are brought to life with different impressions, and I was most moved by “Paala Järve Vaala Baar,” “Viimane Suusataja,” “Kultuurisaade,” “Lambad Ei Joo” (which means “Sheep Don’t Drink”) and the one track with some English lyrics, “TV on the Street.”  (Joe Ross, Roots Music Report)