Best Of Viola by Tommi
It's been well over 8 months now that I had to leave Viola behind to move to New York. During that time I haven't given much thought to the decade we spent making music to satisfy our personal cravings for all different shades of melancholy, stargazing and escapism.
But yesterday I somehow ended up giving some of our material a spin and had to come to the conclusion that once in a while we actually had a great thing going.
So I finally decided to do something I had though about dozens of times before: Compile a personal Best Of playlist and write up some of the things I feel very proud we were able to get on virtual tape. In no particular order.
Here goes. Hope you'll enjoy this trip through the years.
1. BEAUTIFUL LOST THINGS (Viola Music Club, October 2009)
I just had to start with this one. I feel it captured all the strengths of Viola's different periods. It's ethereal, wistful, romantic, modern, groovy and just plain magical in some weird way.
I love listening to this track loud with a good set of headphones. The arrangement is just so rich with a ton of little things happening all the time. I know that was our biggest problem as well with arrangements: we always kept on adding when we should've been substracting, but that's the way we liked it.
2. 2010S (MAYBE THE WORLD WON'T END) (Viola Music Club, January 2010)
It was never a secret that our #1 influence was the Pet Shop Boys. Ever since I first heard Left To My Own Devices, I've been obsessed with the combination of unsynthesized orchestral instruments and electronic music. On this track I feel we hit that combo the best we ever did.
One of the reasons we didn't feel too bad about calling it a day when we did was that the last gig we did was Viola's day 2011, which was by far the most memorable night we ever had, thanks to the six incredible viola players that we had on stage with us to perform a set of our music. Naturally that set climaxed with this track and I don't think I've ever been as happy to be where I'm at as I was that night when we did this one.
3. NOBODYLOVERS (Viola Music Club, May 2009)
I think I've cited 13&god, the collaboration between The Notwist from Germany and Themselves from the USA, as one of the main reasons for us going full-on electronic back in 2005. I saw them live and there was no going back. I had to get an Akai MPC and start combining organic sounds with electronic processing.
I especially fell in love with how effortlessly 13&god combined the melancholic pop of The Notwist with the sample-laden hip hop of Themselves. That was a combo I tried to shoot for numerous times since then and Nobodylovers feels like the biggest triumph we pulled in that field. I especially respect Riku for getting miles out of his comfort zone for songs like this.
4. BREATHTAKER (Anything Can Stop Us, 2005)
I'm sure it's no secret that we listened to a whole lot of the Danish band Mew around the time we made Anything Can Stop Us and there's no song that exposes that influence quite like this one. Frengers had already blown us away with it's uniquely beautiful atmosphere and complex arrangements and their next album And The Glass Handed Kites had just come out, pushing the envelope even further and at least I listened to them almost constantly.
Still, I'd claim we were able to push enough of ourselves into this one to make it a pretty unique jewel in our back catalogue. Especially after it went through a bit of an electronic makeover when we brought it back into our live set a few years later.
5. INFORMAGEDDON (Viola Music Club, September 2011)
This is a prime example of how Viola always gave us a context to try out anything in. I had wanted to try out some dubstep-type production things for a while and this song seemed to call out for just the kind of ominous gloom that the deep sweeping basses and irregular beats provide.
Even with all the doom and gloom, I love how the chorus melody, guitars and piano punch through the darkness to provide a hint of optimism and hope in the wallowing ocean of sound.
6. WE OWE LOVE (Melancholydisco 2, 2008)
Few things please me as much as being able to pull off a good no-frills dance track that has a nice glittery surface, but some depth as well. This is one of our high-points in that category.
We were also always suckers for weird intertextual references. You can find silly and clever references to our own and other people's work in a huge portion of our stuff. Some of it's apparent enough, but most obscure enough that they'll remain undetected forever.
That said, I'm sure the Dr. Alban reference of this track is hard to slip undetected.
7. NO CONNECTION (Viola Music Club, November 2009)
Another album that inspired at least me in a major way, was Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak and although Kanye is probably not the first artist you'll think about when listening to this track, in my head this song was all about trying to capture some of the feelings I caught from some of the darker songs on that album. The key giveaway is the melodic deep Roland TR-808 kick tuned to take care of the bass notes just like in a lot of Kanye's material.
We also had a weird policy on this track: once an element has been introduced, it's not allowed to remove it for the rest of the track. That led to the pretty intense crescendo through the entire track.
I'm not 100% happy with the first third of this song, but the end has some of my absolute favorite Viola moments.
8. TRAITOR ON THE INSIDE (Viola Music Club, August 2010)
For reasons unknown, August was always "semi-obscure Finnish indie cover month" at Viola Music Club and out of the three covers we made, this amazing song by Red Carpet is by far my personal favorite. Somehow we managed to take an awesome song, make it our own and not completely ruin it in the process.
9. STARGAZING (Tearcandy, 2004)
10. NUCLEAR BEACH (Tearcandy, 2004)
I really hate how hard it is for me to pick tracks from Tearcandy on this list. I know there's a lot of people out there that consider it our best work and I'd love to agree with that, but when I listen to it, all I hear is the shoddy quality of the production and all the wasted potential. There's some brilliant songs on that album, but especially the fast material is plagued by a complete lack of vision and just bad execution.
I hate it when bands remake their classic albums, but whenever I listen to Tearcandy, I can totally understand it. I'd love to give songs like Lovelights and City Silhouette another go to do them justice.
That said, I think the slow songs on the record suffered least from the stuff mentioned above. Stargazing is by far one of the best examples of Riku's talent as a songwriter. Just an honest-to-goodness brilliant song.
And Nuclear Beach is nothing but a classic epic closing track. Great slow-building shoegazing majesty.
11. HEARTSTRING THEORY (Viola Music Club, June 2011)
This is definitely one of my personal high-points as a musician. The feeling of having six endlessly talented musicians interpret music you've scored for them is a pleasure that a sampler or synth will never in a million years be able to provide.
This was also one of the most intimidating experiences of my life. But I think we pulled our Clint Mansell pastiche off pretty well.
12. NEWEST HOTTEST WHATEVER (Viola Music Club, January 2011)
Even to the point of total cliché, I'm a sucker for high-strung stomping indie disco stuff. Man, I wish I was James Murphy.
I love the apathy of the lyrics and vocal delivery and how it contrasts with the bubbly energy of the rest of the track. We had no illusions at this point about our popularity - or lack thereof. Being an indie has-(almost)-been is a pretty horrible place to be.
13. THE DEADWEIGHTS (Anything Can Stop Us, 2005)
Another chapter in my pop-meets-hip hop mania. Although a bit less so then for example Nobodylovers.
There's something endlessly pleasing about how this song sludges forward with that lazy beat. This is also one of those songs that I was never really able to pin on any specific direct influence. For better or worse, it's pretty uniquely Viola.
14. UNREAL LIFE (Wonderabilia, 2007)
For a band like us, writing major key songs is a huge challenge, but when you get it right, it always feels so great. The way the positivity in this one is tinged with melancholy is spot-on.
As far as production goes, this is again one of my favorites. There's a ton of things going on, different types of sounds clash together in perfect harmony and the track grows beautifully through it all.
15. MAYBE YOU'RE DREAMING (Viola Music Club, October 2011)
Nothing but a great shoegazing track with great atmosphere. Without the transfer to a major key in the end, this might be a tad one dimensional, but the ending really ties this one together.
As obvious, a lot of M83 was being listened to while making this track.
16. NOSTALGIA AMNESIA (Melancholydisco, 2005)
I'm not sure whether this one deserves a place on this list, but I put it on anyway, since I always felt is was a bit of an underdog in our catalogue. Riku always felt it was a bit too gothic but I always loved the urgency and silly sci-fi dimensions in this track.
Especially the middle eighth / bridge drop I feel is very well crafted and gives the end just the right push it needs.
Ridiculous, but that's the way I like it.
17. LEAVE IT ALL AGAIN (feat. Bääbs) (Viola Music Club, May 2010)
I always wanted to have more outsiders visit and I'm sure Riku was never really opposed to it either, but for whatever reason this ended up being the only time we had a guest vocalist, which just happened to be my wife.
A good reason for having a guest vocalist was that Riku had some weird throat problems when the end of month was rolling along so he couldn't really sing anything beyond those rap-esque verse things and just let Päivi go nuts on the melodic stuff.
As far as songwriting goes, this probably isn't the best stuff we've done, but something about the atmosphere of this song, the silly urbanism of the production and the lightness of Päivi's voice just works great. At least I really enjoy it.
18. FADE TO WHITE (Viola Music Club, March 2010)
I wasn't crazy about this song while we were making it. I felt we had just made two great upbeat tracks and I would've wanted to continue on that path, but Riku insisted on doing this wintry track, which was very appropriate as Finland was in the grips of a horrible winter at the time.
I'm glad he did insist on making this one as in hindsight it's the best manifestations of our fetish towards Divine Comedy type epic chamber pop with full-on orchestrations and theatric storytelling.
19. PLANET STRUCK (Wonderabilia, 2007)
Another case of the aforementioned fetish towards theatrics and grandeur. The lyrics are about earthquakes and natural disasters in general and I really feel the track kinda has that end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it feel. A wistful swan song to a world burning to ashes. Or something equally silly and pompous.
If you've never caught it before, the voice synth in the end is listing the deadliest recorded earthquakes in the world until then. Unfortunately that list has been appended a few times since then already.
20. ASTROMELANCHOLIA (Viola Music Club, November 2010)
This one started out with me just trying to rip off Kanye West's track Street Lights off the 808s & Heartbreak album but somehow happened to grow into intense epic grandeur on a universal scale. This is probably the one Viola track I'd remake with a LOT of money if I had the chance. The fact that our last years of operations were on a shoestring budget hurt some songs more than others and I really feel this one would benefit a lot from getting a proper royal treatment.
Oh well, it's pretty grand and majestic as it is. I really love it.
There we go. If you actually read / listened through to everything, I'd like to thank you with all my heart. It really means a lot to me to know that all the work we did over the years didn't go to waste just because we were never able to break through to larger audiences. If you really like our stuff, please let somebody else know too.