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Jaakko Eino Kalevi (FI) – “People in the Centre of the City”

Finnish artist Jaakko Eino Kalevi has been releasing music in some form or another for over a decade now, but full-length albums by him are relatively infrequent occasions. This Friday, he’ll release his newest, Out of Touch, via Weird World, the Domino Records imprint that also released his 2015 self-titled album. “People in the Centre of the City,” Out of Touch‘s second single, is exemplary of the new collection’s sparkling, laid-back, screwball new wave sound.

Kalevi’s musical style tiptoes towards the line past which pop music becomes kitschy without ever actually crossing it. On “People,” he plants a hip-swinging, robotic bassline under silken, playful keyboard arpeggios, soft geysers of synthetic ambience, and occasional, distant saxophones. The song’s combination of elements yields a sound that’s as charming as it is tacky and charming because it is tacky.

Then there’s Kalevi’s voice, which is a shockingly low-pitched instrument that’s drenched in his gloriously unsubtle Finnish accent. He’s less a singer than he is a crooner who sounds like he listened to a Matthew Dear song or two, drank a bunch of cough syrup, immediately thereafter recorded the most magical vocal demo, and never strayed from that vocal style again. Although some have compared his singing (and overall) style to that of Ariel Pink, Kalevi’s sense of melody and what makes a song catchy is far stronger than Pink’s.

Listeners have also compared Kalevi and Pink for their fondness of quirky lyrics, and “People in the Centre of the City” is certainly a leading example of Kalevi’s offbeat storytelling. As its title might suggest, “People” is about, well, people in the center of a city. Images including escalators and apartment hallways tie the song’s characters together via short narratives in which they’re reminded of their own humanity every time they see other people out and about.

In Kalevi’s heavily-accented, punch-drunk voice, the song’s chorus seems to go, “People in the center of the city/this feels so good/and knew they would”; he’s a kooky enough guy that such a grammatically incorrect statement comes off as calculated and alluring, just another small way in which he fits into the Weird World he calls home. After a decade-plus of doing this, he’s got the “eccentric synthpop savant” routine down to an absolute science.

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