It could be argued that in the musical world, the popular and acceptable one, there is very little in the way of originality these days. No Elvises, Beatles or Genesis/Yes influences have been changing the landscape recently. What sells is the tried and true. Here the slender one is not discounting the appeal of techno, house, or heavens, even the Drake type emo rap for some, but those are specialized niche markets, and often the artists exploring boundaries in those categories make for, at least considering these no longer fresh and young ears, a not-so-pleasant experience.
When it comes to Estonian popular music it is hardly surprising that the types of Ott Lepland ride the coattails of predecessors such as, gasp, Jaak Joala; hence it’s hardly a surprise that Raadio Elmar is popular among many older, meaning middle-aged+ listeners. Riding that train of thought, it was recently suggested to the slimster that he might listen to Mikk Tammepõld’s 2014 debut “On asju, milles eksida ei saa” (There are things that will not lead one astray).
Tammepõld rose to prominence in Estonia as an actor. He is best known for his role in the 2004 movie “Sigade revolutsioon”, or Revolution of pigs. A web search about Tammepõld revealed little about his music except for a quote that instantly endeared this potential listener, even before hearing his tunes. The IMDb music website directory has Tammepõld’s view on life as one in which “he cannot live without beer and his guitar”. Oh yes, remembering a misbegotten youth, those words do resonate. But Tammepõld is not that young, born in 1982. The guitar part makes sense, but at his present age one performs better without the barley sandwiches in the system, rather than what was common for a youngster in his early 20’s (speaking from experience…).
Tammepõld plays many instruments on this recording, among them the e-bow, an instrument that one would love to hear more of. His proficiency on the mandolin and even ukulele must be noted beyond his various guitar (bass, electric and acoustic) skills as well.
“On asju…” is a CD that appeals on many levels. Perky, catchy tunes, fine musicianship, nothing that grates on the aural system. Yet, somehow, it lacks originality. Or is it that after hearing so many recordings in the Estonian pop/rock/folk genre that these ears are jaded? There is a bit of Ivo Linna here. Definitely Tõnu Raadik is mirrored. Just as a start. What is lacking is the personal brand of, say, a Riho Sibul or a Bonzo. Tammepõld’s voice is mellow and pleasant, especially on the gentler ballads, and he can deliver the rockers as well. But overridingly he seems to be playing it safe.
He is to be commended for composing suitable melodies to some wonderful poems. The very first vocal, after a musical intro, is also perhaps the most original composition on the CD, lyrics from the incomparable Paul-Eerik Rummo, “Puudel õitsevad leevikesed” (The bullfinches are blooming in the trees). This is followed by the CD’s title track “On asju…” inspired by Artur Alliksaar’s poem. A great beginning. But then things start to sound too much like the efforts of others. For instance, “Hall laul” (Grey song), words from Ernst Enno, is a solid number, enjoyable, but hardly musically original.
This is not criticism. It is impossible to reinvent the wheel, difficult to build a better mousetrap. But after numerous listens it could have been as if the radio was on, everything flowed into the background. Maybe with one, perhaps two, exceptions. “Kummardamas kuud” (Worshiping the moon), with Tammepõld’s own lyrics - the only such cut on the recording – is a gentle, soothing number, the music befits the lulling words. And the final selection on the CD, words by Juhan Liiv, “Mu viimne laul” (My last song) acknowledges the great poet’s extraordinary thoughts in the lyrics, set to a very mellow and mellifluous melody it ranks among the recording’s best cuts, although here, too, Tõnu Raadik’s influence can easily be heard.
Other than Laur Joamets on various guitars the names among the supporting cast of musicians did not ring a bell. No surprise, a new generation is emerging, perhaps rightfully allowing the Mikk Tammepõlds of the world to take their place.
It must be noted that the booklet accompanying the recording adds much to the complete package, thanks to the sometimes eccentric but certainly individual drawings of Tammepõld, proving his creativity in many fields.
But in summary, merely a safe, well-crafted recording. Predecessors, even contemporaries, influence us all, nothing wrong with that. “On asju…” is a solid debut, great for listening to in the car when driving while focussing on traffic, but alas not one to make the listener stop and focus intently on the song itself. In other words these are indeed compositions that will not lead us astray, and to Tammepõld’s credit, he certainly remains on track with that goal. Hoping for more originality on the next recording, though, harsh as that suggestion may be. The development of a bit more unique voice would be a good start; all the necessary components are otherwise in place.