Best Albums of 2017
selected by Tallinn Music Week

12EEK Monkey <BR> “Xibalba Spa”

12EEK Monkey
“Xibalba Spa”

12EEK Monkey consists of Genka and Põhjamaade Hirm, the grand old man of Estonian hip hop and one of it’s most respected lyrical wizards respectively. The project had been talked-about and in the works for over a decade, before finally going the distance to being finalised and released in early 2017.

The collaborative album finds the duo embracing their cryptic tendencies: backed by hip hop drums layered in primordial sounds, the topics form a hodgepodge of mythologies. The album’s title stems from the Mayan underworld, whilst storylines involve a track narrated from the perspective of water, tales about the bowels of the city – the sewers – and all the not-so-pleasant secrets hidden within, as well as a report depicting the end of the final survivors of the Ice Age.

It might slam with the force of a Balinese kecak or slither and swerve under the listener’s ears like a snake, but at all times, “Xibalba Spa” is a Borgesian rap tome well worth the attention of those who like their rap esoteric and different.

♪♫ Listen: “Mu Xitt on Kosmos” + album stream

12EEK Monkey on Facebook.

Arop <BR> “P.O.E.G.”


With his first release after changing his artist name from Suur Papa, emcee Arop reinvents himself by exchanging tougher, boom-bap tinged beats for more contemporary soundscapes. Those range from both ad-lib heavy trap tracks filled with triplet-laden rhythmic cadences commonly associated with music from Atlanta, as well as lusher backgrounds furnished with vocal samples and occasional traces of dancehall of the OVO Sound variety.

These thoroughly metropolitan sonic elements are countered with a decidedly localist set of topics. Arop uses his versatile flow in quite a few different approaches, aggressively lambasting critics and backstabbers, turning to balladry on “Täna”, and touching on subjects such as religion and his family. Most notable is “Kiki Miki”, named after a cat of his, essentially a children’s song both wistful and victorious in spirit – one embracing childhood nostalgia and ending with him reclaiming his childhood home, which had been sold.

“Kiki Miki” was named Song of the Year at the 2018 Estonian Music Awards.

♪♫ Listen: “Kiki Miki” + album stream

Arop on Facebook.

Djerro <BR> “Aye Candiez”

“Aye Candiez”

Erkki Tero aka Djerro has been the prime mover & shaker in Estonian underground music scene for decades – first with his experimental noise unit ÖÄK, later on as a principal member hippie electronica trio 3 Pead and the co-founder of indie label Eesti Pops.

Djerro’s third full-length solo effort “Aye Candiez” is probably his most enjoyable and complete output so far. Every track here is carved out with the highest level of thought and rationality – from the inspired snoring of “Laav’ Inn” to the new age half-life of “Beau 2” and Aphex Twin like “Rage Of Love”. These “dreams about dreams” are not easy to fix in the mind – they often seem to dissolve into anonymity like some library muzak for an age yet to come. But however narcoleptic the overall effect, one can trace linkage to the adventures of electronica pioneers, such Joe Meek’s outer space fantasies or even Edgar Varese’s vision of “sound as living matter”, cross-bred with various matches and mismatches of ambient, trance, and elegiac sunset-house. With the bass of the opening track “Mustamäe tee” striking like a life less ordinary that you’ve been looking for forever, comes the grasp that this isn’t your average album. In fact, it may just be a gateway into discovering a whole deeper level of electronica.

♪♫ Listen: “Aye Candiez” + album stream

Djerro on Facebook, Soundcloud.

Erki Pärnoja <BR> “Efterglow”

Erki Pärnoja

“Efterglow” is the second solo album by Erki Pärnoja, who achieved widespread recognition as the guitarist for Ewert and the Two Dragons. Unlike his work with the aforementioned ensemble, “Efterglow” is an instrumental work.

“Glow” is a fitting word, as memories of the 70’s glow through the album’s tapestry. It also addresses the general feel, as fairly steady drumming lays the foundation on which luminous swaths of synths and his dynamic guitar ply their trade. Even though there are explosive moments, the album prefers to glide from moment to moment most of the time, making the most of feel instead of force.

Manny from Black Books once advised someone to picture themselves as “a loose lily floating down an amber river”. Evocative of both sunset and twilight, “Efterglow” would be a solid fit to accompany either that trip or, for that matter, many a travelling scene from cinema.

♪♫ Listen: “Efterglow” + album stream

Erki Pärnoja on Soundcloud, Facebook, www.

Estrada Orchestra <BR> “Jazzbeatjäätis”

Estrada Orchestra

The sophomore release by the Estonian jazz-funk quintet bears the quirky name “Jazzbeatjäätis”, a compound word consisting of ’jazz’, ’beat’, and ’ice cream’. It’s not a bad option, given that it’s certainly jazzy, whilst it places importance on a pulsating, steady beat, and just like ice cream, it’s enjoyable. “Jäätis” might feel slightly less “out there” than its predecessor, which may be down to the group stirring the sounds into a more concise gumbo than previously. The jazzy character is still there, with the songs’ 5-10 minute timespans yielding plenty of time for the grooves to grow and branch out.

Whilst “Garden of Pleasures” might the best of the bunch in terms of balancing vibe, adventure, and accessibility, Estrada Orchestra have created a concoction that – between the Afrobeat-reminiscent sax, eerie keyboard lines, and dusty aesthetic – sounds and feels like the flea market gem that never was, simply because it hadn’t been made yet. But it’s no museum piece.

♪♫ Listen: “Nite City” + album stream

Estrada Orchestra on Bandcamp, Facebook.

Luurel Varas <BR> “Leisure Time”

Luurel Varas
“Leisure Time”

Combining lo-fi hip-hop beats with intimate psychedelia and hazy vocal samples, Luurel Varas’ “Leisure Time” evokes feelings of nostalgia as well as the untold future. Never settling into a comfortable headspace, the music is always evolving and jumping between feelings. The main focus of these diverse songs is to create a mood.

Fulfilling their purpose with grace and subtlety, they also offer a peek into the possibilities of today’s club music. While so much of the new electronic music is focusing on fast speeds, monotonous house rhythms, barren soundscapes and harsh textures, Luurel Varas bets on the opposite – easy groove, warmth, comforting vinyl crackle and melodies that leave something to the imagination. Not everything is spelled out or taken to its logical conclusion.

Some things are better left ambiguous and “Leisure Time” is exactly that – a jazzy record with lots of moving parts that’s always held together by a single mood.

♪♫ Listen: “Charming Shake” + album stream

Luurel Varas on Facebook, Bandcamp, Soundcloud.

Mari Kalkun <BR> “Ilmamõtsan”

Mari Kalkun

The folk singer-songwriter’s third solo album is sung in many native Estonian languages and prominently features the traditional instrument kannel. Known for her themes of nature and folk traditions, Kalkun’s new full-length “Ilmamõtsan” is filled with delicate arrangements, versatile singing and folk poetry. The music transports you into the deep forests of Southern Estonia – to a time when people spent their days foraging and making their own medicine, when the moss-covered wooden houses blended into the natural landscape, when everything had their own spirit and when the devils roamed the forests, playing tricks on the easily-fooled.

It has an ancient, timeless quality to it that is difficult to imitate and downright impossible to replicate. Combining folk traditions with innovative songwriting, Mari Kalkun is one of the most forward-looking folk artists today.

♪♫ Listen: “Mõtsavele mäng” + album stream

Mari Kalkun on Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud.

Maria Faust & Kira Skov <BR> “In the Beginning”

Maria Faust & Kira Skov
“In the Beginning”

A collaboration project of two extremely talented musicians, a vocalist and a saxophonist, “In the Beginning” was directly inspired and affected by a road trip Maria and Kira took to the southern borderlands of Estonia.

After finding an empty Russian Orthodox Church originally constructed in 1873, they decided to record an album in it. In their own words, the result should not be misunderstood as a literal historical document, but rather as a collage inspired by the Catholic Church’s deep and dark history, a reflection of the various regimes’ annihilation of cultural traditions from the local indigenous past, and a quest for forgiveness.

The music includes hypnotic, chant-like presentations of tales inspired by sacral orthodox hymns, in a merger of Estonian folklore and western cultural influence. It’s an album filled with serene choral moments and jazz interludes which all together create quite a surreal mixture.

♪♫ Listen: “EPP” + album stream

Maria Faust on Facebook, Soundcloud. Kira Skov on Facebook, Soundcloud.

Miljardid <BR> “Kunagi läänes”

“Kunagi läänes”

Miljardid is the latest step in the twisty-turny musical career of Marten Kuningas, who has released music in bands like Leegitsev Sidrun (Flaming Orange), as well as two solo albums. The latter of those solo albums featured the same lineup as here – Kuningas, Raul Ojamaa, Kristjan Kallas, Peedu Kass – and was evidently more than just a backing band, as they changed their name to Miljardid afterwards.

Sonically, the project has a fair bit in common with Kuningas’ earlier efforts, but still forms a different kind of whole. Indie rock and mellow, occasionally psychedelic touches cross paths with guitar licks evoking African music, and even 808-style bass one might be more accustomed to hearing in the context of contemporary rap records. Kuningas is a versatile vocalist and poetic writer, and here his lyrics – revolving around life in the West (the album title stands for “Once Upon a Time in the West”) and the various feelings and impressions of an individual in the device-drenched 21st century – pave way to an often melancholy, thoughtful crooning, which may up the ante to explosive and theatrical in a snap.

“Kunagi läänes” masterfully blends artistic ambitions, virtuosic musicianship, and pop appeal into a proportional whole.

♪♫ Listen: “Olendid” + album stream

Miljardid on Facebook, Soundcloud, Instagram.

Neuronphase <BR> “212”


Neuronphase is a legendary deep house unit from Estonia’s main university town Tartu. Starting out as a four-headed DJ collective for about a quarter of a century ago, it’s by now a solo effort by Anti Aaver.

“212” offers the raw attitude of the leftfield house. Built with the rounded corners of analogue gear rather than the planed-off shards of digital, a prevailing aesthetic here is of vintage yet ever-so-perfect dance music. It is like a tumultuous and shuffling deep house river, where the old blends into never-before-heard, bouncing basslines carrying jazzy solos, dub-elements intertwining with solitary electro beats and distant punk clangs fading away in the warm embrace of the reverb blanket.

Everything seems more ambient than it used to be and the classic Detroit odour never turns into annoying stink but remains pleasantly brisk throughout.

♪♫ Listen: “Patience” + album stream

Neuronphase on Soundcloud.

Nevesis <BR> “Pink Magnet Masters”

“Pink Magnet Masters”

Since its formation in 2008, this four-piece quickly gained a reputation as a formidable force in Estonia’s music scene. They were impulsive, scandalous, destructive and self-destructive, and in the end unable to overcome the goals of their own myth set up by heavenly heights. Their star burned brightly, no matter whether rising or falling.

Five years after the fuzzy debut album, they have come out with a second full-length effort that does not meet any expectations. The band, formerly known as merciless riff-rock cartel, is now much more adventurous, subtle and dreamy. There are genuine pop songs hidden beneath complex structures and rhythms – you’ll get lost within spacious guitar patterns, whilst mystic dance of the bass guitar will entangle your feet and make you move in ways you never moved before. The subconscious stream of futuristic space-tale lyrics exacerbates the impression given by musical palette, but, fortunately, does not explain anything. Things work on two levels here, chopping and changing like alternating spouts of amnesia and obsession.

♪♫ Listen: “Mind Control” + album stream

Nevesis on Facebook, Soundcloud, www.

Pedigree <BR> “Standard Sundown”

“Standard Sundown”

The latest album by local industrial metal pioneers is yet another testament to their ample creativity by offering a diverse collection of songs that can’t be easily pinned down.

At their core, Pedigree remains a band in love with heavy music and its inherent beauty. What makes them stand out from the endless number of cheap copycats of Godflesh, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry is their dedication to crafting an interesting song – there isn’t one like another. Adding a hefty dose of electronica, punk and hardcore to their innovative brand of industrial metal, Pedigree never disappoints. The new album even has a few tracks with prominent acoustic guitar, which quite surprisingly doesn’t sound out of place at all.

Everything is in service to the song and that means the experimentation never really ends. If you reach that point in a band’s life, anything is possible.

♪♫ Listen: “How Fucked?” + album stream

Pedigree on Facebook, Instagram.

Pia Fraus <BR> “Field Ceremony”

Pia Fraus
“Field Ceremony”

On their first album in 9 years, the long-standing shoegaze six-piece sound more assured as ever. The sweet melodies and warm layers of guitars that have defined their previous records are still there, while some new electronic elements have also found their place in the dreamy soundscapes of their songs. Pia Fraus’ music has always conveyed a deep connection with nature and a sense of place that’s usually also been reflected on their album covers.

As the wind turbines hint on the cover of “Field Ceremony”, the new music is airy and forward-looking – melodic hooks come and go, separated by sections of rhythmic repetition and bright synths. Not held down by genre-definitions and rising above the genre’s clichés, Pia Fraus keeps making sincere and beautiful music with rediscovered energy.

♪♫ Listen: “Mountain Trip Guide” + album stream

Pia Fraus on Facebook, Instagram.

Ratkiller <BR> “Meltdown of the Highest Order”

“Meltdown of the Highest Order”

A proper outsider music type, deliciously batty producer and sound-collagist Mihkel Kleis launched his Ratkiller alias sometime around 2011, trying to catch his idiosyncratic impression of everything that can be called “contemporary electronic club music”. Although, as he has said: “I still don’t know how it actually should be done. In a way I am like a parrot – I like to imitate but I don’t have any clue what I’m saying.” After several tape-releases on labels Rotifer Cassettes, Baba Vanga, ;paranoia and Crash Symbols, “Meltdown of the Highest Order” is his first material on vinyl released by Estonia’s Porridge Bullet. “Meltdown” is an output by artist who can listen to and absorb myriad other sounds and transduce them into something of his own.

Ratkiller creates a parallel sound for pop music, full of chopped ’n screwed hip hop noise, frazzled electronics, convulsive cut-ups and blown-out ambience, where sophisticated ideas and clear forms illuminate each other. “Meltdown’s” cold-blooded charm also includes the fact that the music itself is actually listening to the melomaniac listening to it and not turning him/her off.

♪♫ Listen: “Gimmick” + album stream

Ratkiller on Bandcamp, Facebook.

Tõnu Kõrvits <BR> “Moorland Elegies”

Tõnu Kõrvits
“Moorland Elegies”

Tõnu Kõrvits is among the most renown contemporary classical composers in Estonia. On “Moorland Elegies”, Kõrvits has taken the texts of Emily Bronte and transformed them into cinematic texture-rich soundscapes and lush yet intricate harmonies that glimmer with life, lust, desire, despair, depth, spirit and sophistication. There are shadows, half-tones, twists and turns, whispers and murmurs, and an underlying mesmerizing mystery that sounds a bit like a setting from an ancient fairy tale or the elf town Rivendell in Lord of the Rings. The tones are at times crisp and crystal clear, at times moody and twisted, or seductive in their cloud of oriental moods and spices.

These stories of love and loss are eloquently recited by the Tallinn Chamber Choir and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. The dizzying highs and lows, the crescendos and diminuendos are a fine piece of story-telling where the choir and the orchestra become characters in the story, landscapes in the background, a gush of breeze in the darkness and the star-lit skies. The delicate delivery of the musical masterpiece, where musicians take the shape and form of the music itself is true magic.

♪♫ Listen: “Come, Walk with Me” + album stream

Tõnu Kõrvits on Facebook.

Trad.Attack! <BR> “Kullakarva / Shimmer Gold”

“Kullakarva / Shimmer Gold”

This aptly named threesome comes alive where the new and old collide and spark, taking the hauntological blasts from the past – scratchy archive recordings of long vanished village singers –, splicing the traditional instruments with electronics and pulling it right into the 21st century. They have acquired near rockstar status in Estonia and beyond with songs based on local folk traditions. Their distinctive, sometimes eerie brand of stomping “folk rock meets original field recordings” involves instrumentation like Estonian bagpipes, zither and jew’s harp, along with guitar and drums, that propel the rock feeling throughout.

The first half of the album really feels like a non-stop party, carried out at a breathless pace with thumping guitar riffs, bagpipes and chanting vocals. The melodic lines of “Kullakarva” are familiarly lifted and fleshed out, whilst the more mellow side of their work is demonstrated by the charming children’s song, “Lullaby.
The Guardian rated their latest output Kullakarva” as four points out of five and predicted that they will become one of the bands of the year.

♪♫ Listen: “Sõit” + album stream

Trad.Attack! on Facebook, www.