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gem-K - Swan, Lover's Knot, Dagger (Super Utu, 2021)



The latest from Super Utu comes in the form of the debut album from Helsinki based Maria Korkeila under her gem-K alias, with the music found within painting a captivating and mournful picture of heartbreak, all bound within sultry beats and deeply emotive melodic sequences.


Working within multiple fields of creative expression usually helps to provide insight into how new ones can be accommodated within that ever expanding space, and for some this outlay helps to fuel new projects that help to interlink varying strains of output together. There have been plenty of examples of artists who work in a plethora of visual styles and concepts that have turned their attentions to musical endeavours, and in many ways the music that they make always has this conceptual edge to it that reflects their art and general ethos in approaching projects. Art, fashion, photography and the like are two fold in their character, in that they are presented through exhibitions, online or in person, and provide a visual image for people to engage with and understand, and helps to convey certain moods and commentaries. Music is also capable of achieving these reactions, and for the most part operates in the same way that art is interpreted, with home listening and dance floor orientated sessions acting almost like online and in person exhibitions. Listening to music made by people immersed in the world of art has always conjured up some incredible audial experiences, as they seem to make music which fits in with this wider context, its contents and features feeding into a wider consciousness of representation, ideals and expressions. The notes that make up records have a deeper meaning attached to them, a conceptual angle of sorts that remains interchangeable with the visual material that we know, but now there's a soundtrack involved which adds further flavour to our world view of that artist. It adds another dynamic into the mix that reaches beyond what has been established already and pushes conceptions and passions into new spaces of being, and as an angle to explore it certainly remains as elastic as art itself. As time passes by the fabric being woven only becomes thicker, more solid and intertwined, as the varying patchworks being formulated seep into one another from all angles, passing underneath and over one another, revelling and enjoying each other's company to their utmost. Its a world that feels so tangible through its appeal to all the senses, be it the eyes, the ears, the hands or even the nose, and as a complete package it sings enormously, both as a reflection of the artist's inner passions but also showcasing to us their concept, their vision, their eye for detail, and how their artistry can grow and evolve from here. Universal, overarching and all encompassing, everything remains ever flowing, constantly searching for new spaces to grow, flourish and excite, and in the end that is where the magic lies.


These interfaces are exactly the kind of feels that immediately leap out at you from the incredible debut album from Gem-K, with this new alias coming from the mind of Finnish multi-disiplinary artist Maria Korkelia, who has developed an incredible array of creative outlets and intersections over the past few years. Working at the crossroads between fashion, graphics, textiles, photography and music, Korkelia's varying streams of creative expressionism have always struck a chord with those that engage with it, with the overlapping influences always containing a significant amount of depth and concept to them. The movements between her varying fields of interest are free flowing, with the energies that guide one train of thought often being transposed into the next, which helps to create a sinuous progression that always leaves Korkelia on the front foot, eager and hungry to find the next step forward. A graduate of the Aalto University Fashion program, her work within the field has been highly acclaimed for its originality and diversity, with her graduate collection exploring the confluence between photography and textile design via a feminist lens, and her recent collection with Fiskars which explored a collection of clothing aimed at urban gardening and exploration. Alongside these exhibitions and collabs, the 'In My Room' collection, a unisex collection, was exhibited at the Kamp Gardens in Helsinki during the 19-20 season, and she has also designed merchandise and graphics for Solstice Festival, Post Bar and for the singer New Ro. Outside of her vast array of fashion orientated projects, Korkelia has also turned her hand to music production, and the results are as fascinating as her other excursions. Her scope for music encompasses as wide a space as her other creative mediums do, with the sounds she conjures up finding a beautiful balance between melody, progression and scale, as the listener is transported along by an undercurrent of feeling and passion. These ideals are evident in her debut EP, 'Now We're Fucking Doing It', which landed earlier this year via the Post Bar label Post Sonics, and on this record Korkelia lays bare her vision for the dancefloor of the future. Fast and ravenous beat structures craft a foundation that allows all manner of cosmic orientated constellations to explode and ignite up top, and as we close our eyes our minds are filled with all manner of images and scenarios that extend a hand out towards us. Inviting and captivating, sonically enriching and progressively joyous, the record was a stomping success, and helped to fuel intrigue within Korkelia's developing audial universe.


And as if to only add further to her palette of artistry, we are now welcomed with the superb debut LP from Gem-K, 'Swan, Lover's Knot, Dagger', which arrives via one of our favourite labels, Super Utu. In fairly stark contrast to the club-orientated sounds found on her Post Sonics release, here we see Korkelia in a much more sombre and reflective mood, but it remains a intriguing turn of pace that sees a new kind of space open up within her fascinating world. Taking a much more DIY approach to proceedings, the tracks found within strike a fine line between mesmerising vocal layers and a series of quietly undulating layers that feature bass, drum machines, guitar, strings and everything else. Going through the record feels like the passing through of an emotional and romantic state of mind, with the overarching concept being portrayed akin to Classical Greek mythology and the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, alongside the everyday whims we all experience with love, lust and loss. The resulting mixture comes across as deeply personal, expertly detailing all the moments we experience in our own lives when things come to an end, but the music speaks of heartbreak on multiple layers, giving the word a nuance that few records really delve into. Its a record we have been very excited to get to listen to, so without further delay, lets dive into this gorgeous retelling of past and present conveyances of love, life and heartbreak.......

Baby, let me in your arms tonight if only for this one last time.

Up first comes 'Swan Song', and this one begins with the sweeping strings to get things going. The ensemble then expands to include some delightful rhythmic movements which help to break up the solidness of the original strings, and before long the track unravels completely to bring the drums into the fold, which also sees the bass lightly trod along underneath it all. Korkelia's vocals then land themselves up top, gently moving along the furthermost frequencies in order to creep into our deepest subconsciousness, the words speaking of being in the arms of a lover for one final time, but the way in which the words pan to the back and then to the front again speak of this being a forlorn memory rather than a hopeful embrace. The transition back into the instrumental section sees the varying layers move in and out of time with a beautiful sense of flow, particularly as the track breaks down at the end to return to just the strings. Wonderful opener. 'Autumn' comes next, with this track featuring the vocals of Jesse Essel, and this one kicks off with the strings once more. The instrument's fullness is then matched by the excellent beat structure that slots in underneath, with intricate guitar like plucks and a lightly stepping bass completing the outlay, and this is when Essel begins his vocal sequence. His voice has a double time feel to it, creating a high line conversation that contrasts expertly with the rhythm of the instruments chiming along underneath, and as he enters his second stanza a plethora of instruments explode into life. This climax then moves into a more instrumental orientated space, but Essel returns soon after to lead the track into one final emphatic sequence, and there remains so much to unpack here, before we move into the final phase, where we are left with one final breath and pause for thought. Breathtaking stuff. 'Apex' comes next, and this one sees in a more textured melodic outline at the beginning. The keys and strings blend into one mammoth like layer, providing the perfect density for the drums to slide into view, and as time passes by we are left with a stripped back feel as we move into the next phase. This is when the guitar line comes into view, its rhythmic wavelength matching the groove impeccably as it serves as a primary part of the pulse, as Korkelia's vocals come into view, repeating the line 'tell me what to do', which really conveys the feeling to us. The track moves along at a graceful pace, searching and exploring all it can, as the instrumental layers intertwine and fuse together in creating a beautiful sense of progression, and as we move further through we arrive at the explosive climax. This section sees boundless electronic passages filter across the top layer, perhaps a sense of release from a situation that remained unsolvable, or perhaps an expression of grief at that unsolvable situation, no matter what its deeper meaning it really packs a punch, and leaves a lasting impression. Top stuff.


Up next comes 'Medusa', and this one sees a return to the usage of strings to help set the tone. Things open up as the pulsating bass line provides a sense of pulse, and this is supported further by the drums and then the vocals, which includes the line 'when I look at you, I turn to stone', which leaves quite a profound impact upon the listener. The track then moves onwards and upwards, taking a breather when the drums leave us for a moment, but everything transitions back into view soon after with additional weight and purpose. 'I never want to see you ever again, I never want to set eyes on you ever again' ring out during the final third, and the manner in which their texture and weight land up top really do speak to the listener of the messages found deep within this record, with our thoughts collecting themselves as the track unwinds and moves into the night. 'Dogmatist' comes next, and this one begins with a beautiful melodic scale to get things moving. The keys and vocals that signalled the track's movement into our audial sphere are joined by some diving guitar play performed by Jesse Essel, with its final flurries seeing the drums come into view. The vocals play a key part in developing the scale of the melodic features in this track, rather than singing hard hitting words instead the focus remains on maximising the feels of the keys, creating an encapsulating feeling through tones rather than through words, and its just as powerful. The track then slides into its next phase, with the guitar sweep cutting everything out save for the backdrop strings, with this extended passage really binding the listener to the melodies found within, and as the drums come back in we feel like we have really been touched by the inner soul of this record. 'I never believed you' rings out between bouts of rising harmonies and string sequences, merging the instruments with the vocals as we continue to drift from one emotional plain to the next, guided by the most visceral of notions. Gorgeous, to the utmost. 'Gone Done' comes next, and this one starts with the fast paced chords to get things going. A series of long chordal sweeps ring out across the mid section, and after a few of these have past we see the drums come into view, and as ever the balance is expertly struck. The vocals start their main sequence around this point, hitting hard as ever, as the track moves through varying densities in order to push things onwards into new realms of being, with new densities and blends presented in each structure that comes our way. We become lost within the varying layers, transfixed by the keys as they fall away, come back into view, the melodic notions swirling around our eyes and ears, providing an experience that speaks of loss but in the most intriguing and deeply captivating way imaginable.


'Dreamless Sleep' comes next, and this one starts off with the lightly chiming drums to get things going. Soon after the initial salvo, a eerie synth begins to fluctuate in the backdrop, moving in and out of time as if its finding the exact spot within the mix, and as this exploratory journey is going on, the vocals land right in the mix, their wavelengths matching the quiet intensity of the grooves that flicker underneath it all. The drums move and flux in time to provide passages that allow for the listener to bind themselves to the melodic powers on display, as we saunter rather than rush, soaking up all we can as the most vivid of tones pass us by. The track really does feel like the experiences felt by the subconscious as we twist and turn in the night, this feeling encapsulated by the climatic utterance of 'give me relief', which is something we can all tune in to. To wrap things up, we have 'Tread Lightly', which features Soft Yakka on the cello, and the feels on this one are immediately enticing. The melodic overload that exudes heavily from the intro unravels and softly undulates, providing a strong foundation for the vocals to slide into view, and everything chimes along to a sensual kind of vibe that is so easy to fall in love with. Its somewhat poignant that as the final track plays out, the words spoken are 'all this time I've been waiting for you', as if to place a final reminder in our heads that this experience we have just sat through is one to return to, when we feel lost, melancholic and reflective, and the world that has been crafted here will certainly stick in the back of our minds for days to come.


Creating a sense of intimacy and emotive direction within music always helps to bind the listener into a certain kind of frequency, but when these factors are not only captured but represented by sequences which micmic the fullest of human reaction, then the results are pretty damn special indeed. Maria Korkelia's art is dynamic, multi-faceted and filled to the brim with conceptual creativity, and to see her spread her wings into the realms of musical composition is an absolute joy, not just at how she has embraced it as a viable medium but the manner in which she has conceived and executed her vision of music. This debut from her Gem-k alias hints at an enormity of greatness to come, with the atmospheres created here speaking of the numerous waves which hit us throughout times of heartache and breakups. Inspired by a number of great literature works, Korkelia helps bring the essences of these tales alive via the bedroom aesthetic that binds the textures within the tracks, which helps to ground the sounds within a context which we have all found ourselves within, alone beside the world and left to ponder at what might have been. Its energy in a bottle stuff that resides somewhere between the heart and the mind, music that makes you feel as much as it makes you think, all wrapped up within a beautiful package of emotion. An incredible record, from start to end.





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https://superutu.bandcamp.com/album/swan-lovers-knot-dagger




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