I think that drone, more than any other type of music (even the harshest of harsh noise), is something that most people just cannot bring themselves to even attempt to understand. There’s this prevalent idea out there that art (particularly, I believe, music) is under some socially contracted obligation to clearly explain itself, to specifically define where it’s going, why, and what the end result is probably going to look like. If a piece of music doesn’t immediately announce itself as beautiful or, at the very least, “catchy,” then the chance that it’s absolute garbage quickly becomes astronomical.
This knee jerk aversion to the idea of having to actually work at understanding something, of earned appreciation, is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the average listener’s reaction to any type of drone or drone-oriented music. Almost as soon as the track lengths are seen, the adjectives begin to flow: boring, stupid, inane, lazy, meaningless, etc. In fact, the term “drone-y” is in itself a negative way of characterizing music for many people. It’s one of the more reprehensible misunderstandings in music today. While drone music may not have the longest history, the genre has a rich and deeply varied battery of artists who have at the very least experimented with the genre. From early experimental composers and artists like Yves Klein, John Cage, La Monte Young and Alvin Lucier, through the Krautrock era and Brian Eno, and even in certain fortuitous releases by Godheads like Radiohead and Wilco, drone has achieved a sort of hidden ubiquity, injecting itself silently into every genre, from jazz to metal to contemporary electronic music.
In Jani Hirvonen (better known as Uton), we have a modern-day master. The prolific native of Tampere, Finland represents to my mind the best that the recent freak-folk/drone explosion from that great wild country has to offer. He manages to exemplify almost everything that is essential about that scene, releasing piece after piece that are at once primal, terrestrial, incorporeal, mystical, free, bleak, and utterly joyful. Uton’s characteristic delicacy and subtlety is here accompanied by Jari Koho of fellow Finnish freakout fellowship Vapaa. Koho’s is a group disposed more to the feral and uncontrolled corner of the sound explored here, and his influence is palpable throughout the album.
We’re Only In It For The Spirit is an exercise in aural imagery. Each individual, untitled track is an incredibly evocative peregrination through a corner of Uton’s vast, untamed universe. The first track is a sort of ethereal hint of a melody wandering through the woods and stumbling upon a group of imposing, hooded figures ritually gathered around something. As the song approaches this meeting and peers over the stoic shoulder of one of the figures, a pulsating, whirring, buzzing alien artifact is revealed, glowing and lodged in a snow bank. The bulk of the track exists in contemplation of this item, as it slowly creeps upwards into the air, morphing and altering itself the whole way before fluttering off into the grey skies hanging over the cavernous and unending forest.
From there, we are carried to, and eventually through, a more sinister place. The second piece of this puzzle is a trek across the frozen surface of a lake. Huge cracks in the ice intermittently appear below us, and we hear the aching and groaning of the glacial plain mingling with far-off melodies that are blown to us from over the mountains. Huge, indeterminate shapes pass below us, and their calls work their way up through the filter of the ice. Eventually we come upon a flimsy, trembling shack in the center of the lake, a tiny vein of smoke creeps out of the chimney. We go inside to find it empty, but with a recently made bed and fire ready for us. We rest.
The third track here is a hazy, warped memory of the back porch twang of our great-grandfathers’ instruments and the distant clanging of church bells and locomotive bells that never seemed far behind -- a sort of blissful hymn recorded onto an already decayed tape and played back from inside a cocoon of old newspapers and war medals, stuffed in a box in your grandmother’s closet. This warm but alien feeling bleeds into the final act, which is an attempted communication directly from the spirit world. The voice on the final track represents to us a call without a caller, a demand without anything demanded. We feel the passion, and we are affected, but we have no reason to be; the content has been lost. It’s something akin to listening to a great speech by a past foreign leader in his or her native language. We do not understand the words and are at best a sort of voyeur audience, peeking backwards in time for no reason other than that we can. The voice here bridges this gap and allows us to be fully in this past moment of the primal and radically clear world that Uton slices open for us, while having complete foreknowledge of the world that is to come.
This is where the album leaves us. It doesn't return us home and we partly remain in the world we have been beckoned into, but we haven’t strayed that far either. Uton wraps us in his delicate, uncanny tendrils and speaks to us in the most alien of tongues, yet we feel bizarrely warm and at home. The power of this music is that it manages to send us into exile within our own minds.