When I review an album, I generally have various adjectives in mind with which to describe said record. Sometimes, though, I’m at a loss of words on how to do that. The debut from IANAI is truly a spellbinding experience, but I’m struggling to formulate a way to convey that to you. The album released today, June 10th, and is called Sunir.
IANAI is basically an enigma, an oracle of time and space, earth and element. The primary musician behind this project is Finnish artist Treveniel, though I don’t know anything about them. There are plenty of guest musicians from various orchestras around the world, as well as from bands such as Massive Attack, Swallow the Sun, and more. The project as whole is meant to be a medium of divination of sorts, like our future race reaching out to us from a higher plane of existence, or perhaps the wisdom of the past beckoning us to remember. All of it is veiled, hazy, misty.
I’ve noticed that other reviewers out there have also been struggling to describe this record. Many of them just seem to copy/paste the bio from Svart Records and then change a few words. But I’m going to jump into the deep end here. The musical style here is labelled as alternative folk, but that is misleading, or maybe just not enough. The record label seems to describe it as a cross between the darkened world music dreams of Dead Can Dance with the drenched post-rock leanings of Sigur Rós. I think that is a good comparison.
IANAI offers sounds from cultures all over the world, from Africa and Scandinavia to the Middle East and South America. It reminds me of Dead Can Dance’s most recent album Dionysus in how it portrays a homogenous version of human culture, a synthesis of all cultures into a singular human expression. The vocals are sung in various languages, as far as I can tell, from Hindi to Slavic to Esperanto. It truly is a global well of expression.
Most projects that attempt this style end up sounding Native American or tribal in tone. There is definitely some of that here, but IANAI is more than that. Not only does the music sound grounded in the human experience, it also sounds like a contemplative projection from beyond the furthest stars. It sounds human, but also alien. This is achieved not only through the mysterious vocals and strange inflections, but also through lush orchestration, various novel instruments, acoustic guitar, and plenty of rich percussion. Though I can pinpoint various instruments, the music here is eccentrically singular in focus to where all of the instruments congeal into some sort of sacred fire together.
Sunir is an album that is best described through how it makes me feel, than through a track-by-track analysis. This album makes me feel at one with the universe; or at least as if the voice of wisdom is reaching out to me from the mists of timelessness to express that to me. It wants to edify, to convince, to enrich. Sunir as a whole engages my synapses with a passionate warmth, reaching out and digging deeply into the outermost abodes of emotion, within and without. I confess that I feel rather fuzzy and happy while listening to this, like I could drift away with the clouds.
One way this album coaxes this state is through the rhythmic and catchy vocal melodies it utilizes. Time and again, I was in awe of how easily I could sing along, even though it’s not in my language. It feels like it is expressed in a way I can understand, though, and probably in a way that any human on earth could intuitively comprehend. That is the level of enlightenment and quiet fervor on this album.
For what it’s worth, my favorite tracks are “Khaalo”, “Elitha”, “Akrar Adi’re”, “Samovela”. “Khaalo” has a rich melody at its core that you will hear in snippets on a couple other tracks, such as the opener “Savoj Icoil”, but it really comes to fruition on this song. I love its circular, humming nature. “Elitha” is a stunning track with luxurious orchestrations driving the second half. It is cinematic and illuminating. Orchestration is also a key factor in “Akrar Adi’re”, but it is darker and more culturally diverse. It also feels huge. “Samovela” is the closer, and I love how it subtly and quietly ends this experience with layered and calculated cinema. I love the amazing melody that rises near the end, but the track feels like it ascends only to a whisper, an ethereal and mighty rumor of better things and places.
I don’t know much about IANAI or Treveniel, but I do know how this album affects me on different levels. Musically, it is beautiful, serene, gentle yet mighty, and abundantly diverse. On a human level, it makes me feel part of something larger, something transcendent. That is quite an accomplishment in my eyes, and yet I also feel that this project has room to grow into something even more striking. As it stands, this is a fantastic start, however, and I know I will only grow in fondness for it over time.
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