Artur U & The New City Limits – Holiday From Eternity Review: Saving Rock’n’Roll from Helsinki

Hallowed rock’n’roll gets stale from time to time, and if Daft Punk can bring back disco there’s clearly no limit on looting from the past. Artur U & The New City Limits aren’t just plundering or repurposing the past though, they’re rewriting history. The punk movement has been one of the most influential musical movements in history. It’s defined internal and external politics and made virtues out of simplicity and lack of technical skill. When I was growing up and discovering modern music almost everything had a punk influence.

Artur has written punk out of the collective songbook. They are what music would sound like if 70s rock and pop jumped straight to New Wave with some of the more psych oriented krautrock thrown in. Even the production sounds a bit 80s, though with some much appreciated hindsight applied to that decade’s more novel indulgences.

The guitars drone and buzz more than they lay down a standard chord progression or carry a melody. The drums drive the rhythm and the vocals do most of the melodic heavy lifting, with occasional help from stabs of synth and keyboard. The guitars provide a kind of substrate that doles out the proper rhythmic nutrients to the blossoming vocal harmonies, but just like the ground we stand on they are prone in erupt into full on freak outs. I’m talking guitar solos the like of which we haven’t heard for decades. It’s much more flash and fire than shredding wankery though, which is sort of a nice rest for these metal hardened ears.

Vocally the band takes full advantage of their male and female singers. Though Tuomas Orasmaa is the the lead most of the time, Johanna Saarinen certainly gets her time in the spotlight. Oh, did I mention they’re from Helsinki? They’re from Helsinki. Anyway, I’d hesitate to put one in lead position and the other in backup. They share vocal duties to good effect. Tuomas pitches himself somewhere between The Human League and Bauhaus, and I couldn’t really put my finger on a good comparison for Johanna. Unfortunately my dart board of comparison for female vocalists skews heavily towards blues yelpers and whatever Diamanda Galas is doing.

Holiday From Eternity is an intelligently constructed album. The first half lays the sonic blueprints on the ground, and then the second half hits you with the artist’s renderings. Once the palette is established, and we’ve had some time to adjust to the purposefully dated production sound Artur can start throwing some new elements at us. The steel guitar shuffle of Wind is a welcome bit of organic sound, and the insistent feedback snarl of Mechanical Dreams shows them capable of bringing the attitude without relying on guitar histrionics.

By the time The Secret fades out on its big crescendo I was both sated and ready for maybe just one more bite, like a night at an all you can eat sushi and dessert bar. If you’re looking for New Wave worship outside the usual mode then I highly recommend you give this one a shot.

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