RUBIK

"No I'm not taking sides, at least not yours"

Years active: Genres: Related artists:
2003 - 2013 Indie rock, progressive pop Pariisin Kevät (tbc)

Line-up: The original line-up consisted of Artturi Taira (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Arttu Hasu (bass), Lauri Hiekkala (guitar), Samuli Pöyhönen (keyboards, guitar) and Sampsa Väätäinen (drums). Hasu and Hiekkala left around 2007 after the debut album; the bass duties were then picked up by Jussi Hietala, forming the final quartet line-up pictured above.


It's hard to say which is more frustrating when you come across a back catalogue that's so short even in its complete form: that you discover an act so full of potential and greatness but who stopped just a touch before they could achieve it, or an act that released a couple of incredibly solid releases, some even worth of being appraised as classics, and who then robbed us of hearing anymore. You can find examples of both in these pages and Finland's Rubik falls squarely in the latter category. Their main discography only comprises of three real studio albums (plus some EPs and other addendums), but not only were all three of those albums highly recommendable in their own right, but Rubik were so full of surprises that they could have honestly pulled anything out of the bag next, had they continued.

Rubik started in the mid-2000s, during the golden age of Finnish indie, and hit it out of the park on the first go: their debut EP People Go Missing raised a storm and sold out quickly. The debut album Bad Conscience Patrol followed a few years later with a defter version of the EP's sound and... and then Rubik flipped. A lot of Rubik's mythos lies in how the band effectively reinvented themselves from their second album Dada Bandits onwards, suddenly bursting in copious amounts of joyous sound and throwing in time signature switches, erratic structures and chaotic cascades to mix it all up. The form that most people today associate with Rubik is that prog pop sound and images of a bundle of crazy Finns banging on drums on the stage and bringing every brass instrument they can find to share the space. The change from the brooding and tense early releases to the marvellously liberated latter half of their career is kind of nuts, to the point that it still catches me by surprise too. But maybe I'm forgiven there because it's that first phase where I first found Rubik, in the depths of Myspace waving a few free song downloads around - enough to entice a young music nerd who suddenly became obsessed with what he heard. I'll go into it in more detail in the review for Dada Bandits but I experienced The Transformation 'live' with no warning, and that to me is still the most surprising sound switch I've ever bumped into with an artist. That element of surprise was always brooding there in the background but it really became a defining factor from Dada Bandits onwards, with the thrill of unexpected turns becoming such a core part of their sound that even today it's just as thrilling to go through those wild and tangled paths again as it was the first time.

Regardless of how they sounded like, they were marvellous and consistent with nary a miss in their discography - the only somewhat unremarkable release they have is a free download EP that I've not even reviewed here (it's the Data Bandits EPEPEPEP in case you're curious and it'd be a 6, but there's not much anything interesting I can say about it). Insted they went from strength to strength, shifting and developing but always retaining their incredibly keen sense of hooks, their dynamic and sharp instrumental talent and Artturi Taira's falsetto-heavy vocals which bound it all together. Despite only three albums long, it's a discography that begs to be praised more than it is right now - but sadly Rubik only started to make a minor splash in the bigger world (Pitchfork reviews and all) with their third and final album Solar, and that was a bit too late. There was no real drama to the end of Rubik even though it was very sudden; just in the year before the band had made a big song and dance about buying their own practice and recording space and touting it as the start of something new. But by end of 2013 something had changed and the band announced their end, seemingly stemming from Taira's desire to create something different and finding the band context too restraining for it. He did start a solo project for a brief moment (no studio recordings exist, he only performed live), but ultimately ended up as a member of Pariisin Kevät (together with Hietala). It's an odd and slightly confusing end, but at least you can't say that Rubik didn't leave behind any kind of unfinished business: whilst it's easy to daydream about what kind of mad adventures would have been conjured up next, the few releases they do have paint an exciting and complete picture.

Main chronology:

Other releases:


BAD CONSCIENCE PATROL

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 8 "A Hard Try", "City & the Streets", "Jesus/Hypnotist"

1) Sleeps a Friendly Stranger; 2) A Hard Try; 3) City & the Streets; 4) Buildings; 5) Hinges; 6) Why Don't You Let It Happen; 7) The Interventionist; 8) Jesus/Hypnotist; 9) Bill Withers; 10) Wrappt in a Carpt

Rubik's one and only entry into the guitar rock canon, indebted to their inspirations as they were - but what a great rock band they made.

It's funny how the same thing can look so different when viewed in retrospect. Once upon a time Bad Conscience Patrol sounded like a new band making an exciting and promising entrance: it's an album that takes plenty of clearly recognisable inspiration from other, more popular acts in forming its sound, but it also has so much of great songwriting and the band's own personality coming through that it was clear Rubik would be a force to reckoned with once they'd find their own voice. Which they in fact did find, so much so that Bad Conscience Patrol barely bears a resemblance to anything that came afterwards. The debut album now comes across like a bizarre relic out of place in the band's discography, the kind of release that you wouldn't necessarily recommend other people to start with and even if those same people fall in love with the subsequent albums, you still have to accompany your encouragement to check out the first album with plenty of caveats. There are enough hints in Bad Conscience Patrol of what's to come that you can clearly link the two iterations of the band together if you're paying attention, but much of what made early Rubik specifically so interesting in the first place ultimately proved to be a little misleading of what actually makes them a great band.

Bad Conscience Patrol is a child of its times, moving through various strains that rock bands took in a post-OK Computer world, particularly in the Nordics. Radiohead and their millennial paranoia and anxiety are the most notable source of inspiration, but they hold hands with sky-piercing anthems a lá early Kent and Mew's crooked prog playfulness. Bad Conscience Patrol wears its influences quite literally on its sleeves given the lyrics in the sleeve notes are arranged in the same erratic structures as OK Computer's, and some songs lean towards their inspirations more than others, particularly "Wrappt in a Carpt" which sounds like it was written immediately after binging on OK Computer, the Yorke-isms of the title included. Bit by bit though Rubik carefully flash their own character throughout and make it obvious there's more to them than just their record collection: the bonkers rhythm-flicking assault of "Buildings" has the energy of a cat freaking out and running around the room, "Why Don't You Let It Happen" shifts moods from murky organ pitter-patter to a jovial march and eventually an epic closure like three songs perfectly inhabiting a single skin, and in hindsight "Jesus/Hypnotist" may as well have a giant neon-lit arrow sign pointing at it as the direction the band would move towards next (and more on that later). Taken as as a full 10-song experience Rubik's own characteristics eventually take prominence over the parts where it's easy to connect the dots to other artists, particularly coming through in the band's quixotic restlessness where brighter melodies intersperse with crunchy riffs and the listener is left guessing what's going to happen next. "Sleeps a Friendly Stranger" and the aforementioned "Buildings" harness Rubik's manic energy into slightly askew rock anthems that rampage like wild beasts in an enclosed space, "The Interventionist" and "Bill Withers" feature the album's heaviest walls of sound with the former a emotion-laden cry for action and the latter sinking into the darkest depths the record goes, and while "Hinges" tones down the guitars and locks into a groove it keeps its tension bubbling under, where the nervous wait for the inevitable release is tangible. Layered all over this are Taira's vocals which really uplift Rubik as Rubik: his tone and way of phrasing (and frantic flicks between ranges) can't be traced to anyone else and it anchors the rest of the record together. Besides, even when they are most obviously paying tribute to their idols, the songwriting stays strong: "Wrappt in a Carpt" doesn't have a single original bone to it but it's a haunting finale for the album, leaving the listener hanging with a sudden comedown ending that sounds as hopeless as it is pretty.

On three particular occasions Rubik completely knock it out of the park, and it's the album's impeccable singles run which show Bad Conscience Patrol at its strongest. "A Hard Try" sounds like a classic radio hit that never was: an honest-to-god guitar anthem that reaches blissfully cathartic highs through its melodic firework choruses, showcasing Rubik's strength as an alternative rock unit without any trappings or complications thrown over the soaring hooks. It shows that if they wanted to, Rubik could to go head-to-head with any of their more popular peers and likely win the fight. Closer towards the end of the tracklist, the bright, airy and melodic "Jesus/Hypnotist" is a stark contrast to the rest of the album's cool anxiety that the song in itself is a massive surprise when it appears, and it's only its guitar-revved conclusion that brings it in line with the rest of the record. But its colourful pop twinkle is a thing of beauty and marvel, cutting through the particularly grim shades of the album's second half with its ecstatic flurry of layered melodies and high-rising vocal runs. If you're also more familiar with Rubik's later albums (which is likely to be the case if you're even remotely aware of the band in the first place), here's where you can find some common ground as "Jesus/Hypnotist" would become the blueprint for Rubik to eventually take forward: what sounded like a strange outlier back in the day, now acts like foreshadowing and in hindsight is the album's most uniquely Rubik-esque moment.

But it's not the best song on the album, because that honour goes to the phenomenal "City & the Streets". For four and a half minutes it sounds like the only song that ever matters, soaring with its euphoric sense of bittersweetness and content melancholy and Taira's mumbling falsetto immediately establishing itself as one of the most captivating voices of the mid-late 2000s Finnish indie scene. "City & the Streets" is, for my money, one of the very best songs that came out of that incredibly fruiful and exciting treasure trove of a scene and is practically a landmark of the era: a song where the presented melodies, the lushness of the guitars and the captured atmosphere are so immediate and captivating that they practically trap your attention. Across its runtime the song ebbs and flows, gently setting the pieces in place for its grand finale where layered vocals, towering guitars and shimmering keyboards cascade into a song that's both ready to take on the world while keeping itself close and personal to the listener. It's lush and powerful, a song that in a better world would have been destined to become an evergreen legend of its era - and it is for me.

Hidden between the lines across those highlights and those dashes of their own personality throughought lies the "unique selling point" (if you will) of Bad Conscience Patrol. This is the least of Rubik's three proper albums and it's undeniable that they became a better band the moment they reinvented themselves... but also, this album makes a really strong case for what a great rock band Rubik were. The band are molding their wild ideas into a shape that's on one hand more conventional and something we've all heard before, but which in Rubik's hands becomes something that frequently surprises, inspires and, in the end, still excites. It's practically inevitable that Bad Conscience Patrol is spotlighted by its own estrangement from the discography it resides in, so much so that even trying to simply talk about it as its own musical experience has to be framed through its contrast to its successors - but it speaks for the album strength's that it has survived through those endless comparisons rather than having become a Pablo Honey-esque awkward spot that has to be acknowledged (to continue with the Radiohead references). Instead of a debut with a great promise, it stands proudly on its own qualities as an excellent rock album that's been made with familiar building blocks but built with oddball twists and curves that would make you question the architect's sanity. Rubik were a different band here but they were an excellent band, developing in the right direction from the debut EP - and having spent extensive time traversing through the Finnish independent music scene ca. 2000s, I wouldn't hesitate to call Bad Conscience Patrol a minor classic of that era.

Physically: Clear jewel case, with a simple lyrics booklet.


DADA BANDITS  

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2009 10 "Goji Berries", "No Escape", "Fire Age"

1) Goji Berries; 2) Radiants; 3) No Escape; 4) Wasteland; 5) You Jackal!!; 6) Fire Age; 7) Indiana; 8) Richard Branson's Crash Landing; 9) Karhu junassa; 10) Follow Us to the Edge of the Desert; 11) Altitudes

And here comes the reinvention into the technicolour prog pop madcaps, and it's glorious.

One of those second albums where the artists decides to abandon everything they knew and scorch the earth behind them, emerging as a practically new force - and one to be reckoned with.

Dada Bandits was the first new Finnish album release which I ordered after having moved to the UK, and I went into it completely blind purely on the back of the debut's strength. I wasn't really expecting or altogether ready for "Goji Berries" to explode right out of the gate: it almost immediately bursts out with more colour and whimsy than anything on the debut, and in the space of its three and a half minutes goes through about four different songs by itself as it jerks from tone to tone and volume to volume. It was bewildering, and still is as well - it's a mad concoction of a pop song that makes zero sense with all its flailing and shouting, cheeky singalong frolics and epic horn crescendos, and yet it works perfectly. This was the same band, really?

The eclectic nature of "Goji Berries" sets the space for Rubik's reinvention. Gone are the Radiohead-isms of the debut album and the brooding anxiety of its guitar walls, enter gigantic pop songs with sky-shatteringly towering choruses, flavoured with endless psychedelic layers of all kinds of instrumentation (especially horns - so many horns) and twisted through a variety of time signatures and mood swings. The debut album had "Jesus/Hypnotist", a jubilantly soaring pop moment full of giddy inspiration that stood out from the crowd, and Rubik have gone all-in on that direction - but they have also twisted all those quirky nooks and crannies of their sound even further. They're really putting the prog in prog pop, not so much with song lengths but through pushing these shamelessly bright and melody-heavy musical direction full of catchy choruses through a labyrinthine funnel of unexpected decisions. Each song is a mini-epic unto its own with stylistic swirls, rollercoaster ride thrills and nigh-stream of consciousness lyrics about wartime paranoia, impending apocalypses and strange coins of phrase delivered by Taira's effortlessly morphing vocal range. A trained ear can detect the traces that run between the earlier releases and Dada Bandits, but the overwhelming impression is that Rubik have gone a full 180 from where they began and they are thriving for it. They sound bolder, more relentless and, well, more like (a) Rubik('s cube) in all the colour and twists and turns that lock their ideas into shape.

It's also simply fun how making their songs trickier and more elaborate has unlocked greater depths in Rubik's songwriting. Some songs are a lot more direct than others and especially the ones immediately after "Goji Berries" find Rubik smoothening the initial ride with a series of straight-up gorgeous pop songs: "Radiants" and "No Escape" build themselves up more traditionally and cascade towards their gigantic chorus (and in the case of "No Escape", the perhaps even bigger post-chorus), while the earnestly anthemic "Wasteland" feels like the bridge between the two albums and is perhaps the most immediate song of the entire record (no wonder it was the first single, not that I had heard it before the album). They're great at doing these direct hits and any one of these could find a spot in one's favourites, but the wildest joys of Dada Bandits come from when it goes a little askew while still moving from strength to strength. The neurotic groove of "Fire Age" is my favourite example of the lot, given how it first switches from twitchy to downright funky without so much as a warning, its twinkling piano riffs and humming oboe bouncing up and down all over the rhythm, before it suddenly drops a massive clap-along chorus out of nowhere - had the world heard of Rubik at this stage, it would have had all the right to feature near the top of every self-respectable 'songs of the year' list. The tightly-winding pace of "Karhu junassa" (means "Bear on a Train" but it's not actually sung in Finnish) accelerates with gradual but tremendous force until the song finally breaks into liberated defiance ("I'm not taking sides - at least NOT YOURS" is probably the best singular vocal moment in a record full of them) full of triumph, while its sibling "Richard Branson's Crash Landing" is the most ridiculously upbeat and summery song the band has done, hand-clap galore action and all, done to such a point that it sounds surreal in its own right. They're not really pop songs but they also absolutely are and suddenly encountering these huge hook moments amidsts the plot twists the songs take is enduring fun. And if you want to tone down the sugar levels, the centrepiece math rock apocalypse thriller "Indiana" plays with tension and release like it's no one's business and wraps its finger and eery atmosphere around the listener, until the bomb finally falls and the song speeds up by driving right off the bridge: it's the atmosphere of Bad Conscience Patrol reinterpreted in this new world.

There are a lot of adjectives that come to my mind repeatedly when trying to describe Dada Bandits, but the most striking are how colourful and caleidoscopic it is. Everything here is so vividly textured and full of life and inspiration in the form of sharp rhythms, shiny melodies and open-ended soundscapes, all formed out of seemingly disjointed pieces but when put together and set in motion they create a unique pattern of their own that works so perfectly. It's an album of constant discovery but Rubik never lose sight of wanting to engage with the listener and so they make sure that every distraction on the way is as memorable as the last. It also hangs together as a whole experience marvellously, from the trap door pull of "Goji Berries" and soft landing of the initial pop songs through to the Wonderland vistas of the subsequent songs each a little more unhinged than the next. The more harrowing tone of "Indiana" cuts through the richness in a manner that accentuates just how full of heart the songs resting either side of it are, and the contemplatively stargazing and spatially sparse piano ballad "Follow Us to the Edge of the Desert" does the same towards the end by finally giving the listener a little moment to sit back and breathe. The final celebration of "Altitudes" and its appropriately ascending nature - flying high and mighty towards the sun - feels even sweeter at the end of it, waving goodbye to the listener with a reassuring smile on its face. It's an album and that's not particularly a grand and unique thing in the world of music, but given the building blocks here are akin to a giant crate full of Lego dumped on the floor and picked up blindly to form brand new constructions, the fact that its seams are so tightly together makes it even more incredible.

The last sentiment here, though, is just how exciting and joyous (and I do know I've used that word a lot here but it's difficult to understate just how joyous this album really sounds) this is even so many, many years later. Dada Bandits is a very minor landmark album in a very silly personal way - 2009 was the first time I ever published a full Albums of the Year list on the internet, in my fledgling music blog (we all had one! Now I just have a retro site), and this was my favourite record of the year at the time. I still coincidentally have my very first review of it in my records and so to quote young Flint: "Despite 2009 being a rather good music year, so far no album this year has managed to make me as ridiculously excited as Dada Bandits does whenever I listen to it". That's still a fully valid statement, and it's a downright marvel that Dada Bandits still has the exact same level of fresh marvel around it. It's never stopped being positively bewildering and endlessly inspired, each time I listen to it it's like discovering its particular magic all over again. In the lifetime since I also completely coincidentally got my partner into the album and it's been really neat to experience that discovery again by proxy. The fact that Dada Bandits has had this kind of thrilling longevity speaks not only for why it's such a masterpiece of an album, but it's also the reason why after a considerable amount of time being on the fence about it I've officially awarded it with the perfect points - that endlessly rejuvenated excitement has to count for something, right?

Physically: Gatefold with a booklet with lyrics (handwritten font, not always complete) and loads more of the collage images that grace the cover as well. Which is such a perfect visual accompaniment for this music, come to think of it. The band/album title are on a small sticker directly on the cover.


OTHER RELEASES


JESUS VS. PEOPLE

Release year: Rating: Key tracks:
2007 7 "Haiku Motorik", "Telec"

CD1: Jesus EP (2007): 1) Jesus; 2) Motorik Haiku; 3) Telec; 4) Swim Swim Swim; 5) Hell=; 6) Yes I Know But Thank You Anyway
CD2: People Go Missing EP (2004): 1) Telecvokning; 2) Haiku Motorik; 3) Don't Take a Swim; 4) Feel Like a Spark; 5) [untitled]; 6) Just Heads Dropping

The muscular debut EP and the defter (partial) remake, hand in hand.

After Bad Conscience Patrol was released Rubik quickly grew in popularity, and to both strike while the iron was still hot as well as give the new fans a chance to hear more from the band, the decision was made to reissue the band's 2004 debut EP People Go Missing. However, Rubik didn't want to just push out some old material in a new package and call it a day. So instead, we got the two-disc Jesus vs. People. On the second disc you could find People Go Missing presented as it was (including hiding the instrumental 50-second piano interlude from the tracklist), while the disc presented first in order is dubbed the Jesus EP and which presents, together with a couple of new songs, half of the songs from People Go Missing re-envisioned and re-recorded by a now more experienced band itching to spread their wings. Rubik refused to simple retread the past: they wanted to showcase they were already looking forward as well.

By People Go Missing Rubik were already quite well formed and you can't really tell there's a three-year gap between the EP and Bad Conscience Patrol. It's a moody and intense listen, filled both with thick atmospherics you could slice through with a knife as well as a dynamic, propelling muscle that broke through those scene-setting textures with brute force, and nothing showcases that better than its leading star "Haiku Motorik". Starting with just a steady but already chair-rocking beat and a contrastingly twinkling piano melody, "Haiku Motorik" eventually transforms into a swarm of guitars, keyboards and sheer power as if by a flick of a switch - and for myself and I presume for many others as well, that flick is the moment when Rubik went from a better-than-average MySpace act to a genuine thing to keep paying attention to. "Haiku Motorik" is by and far the best thing on the EP and remains a highlight even in the overall discography, and its primal force still sounds fresh and vital, but it's accompanied by great company too. The creeping, stop/start/quiet/loud opener “Telecvokning” creeps up to the scene by balancing between hushed, minimalist passages made of dubbed-out rhythms and time-lost woodwinds, and those big guitars that early Rubik were so characterised by; on the other side of "Haiku Motorik", “Don’t Take a Swim” completes the impressive opening barrage with a more laidback, almost lounge-like groove which builds up to a surprisingly intense end result during its runtime, while also treating the listener to the EP's most hooking melodies. The second half of the EP doesn’t quite measure up to its first, as after such a varied start the emphasised focus on slow-building steps and extended passages of the calmer “Feel Like a Spark” and the rawer “Just Heads Dropping” simply feel a little tame. They are, undoubtedly, still good songs though and "Feel Like a Spark" in particular almost has the ingredients to be the EP's secret ace in the sleeve, falling just short of it.

Given the above, it makes sense that it’s the first half of People Go Missing - the best songs - that Rubik chose to bring back for the Jesus EP. The new EP foreshadows the band’s move away from the more traditional rock sound of their debut into a more developed sound of their own, toning away some of the guitars and beginning to introduce new sonic ideas – whilst here it's mainly some electronic flavouring, the band do play around with textures and song structures throughout the disc. “Motorik Haiku” takes this the furthest as the once-explosive burst of raw rock power has become a full-on synth pop/indietronica jam, with the original structure and melodies toyed around with and used as a reference point rather than a rigid exoskeleton. It's an enjoyable romp in its own way and I don't mind the sound as such, but I miss the dynamics of the original and the remake sounds a little toothless in comparison. On the other hand “Telecvokning” (now just “Telec”) is retained mostly similar to the original, but the production now has all kinds of additional textures and noises surrounding the familiar quiet/loud switches and the song concludes with a more definitive grand finale, going all-out rocking rather than swinging back and forth between the extremes like the original - whilst the 2004 version was already great, the new version successfully makes it both more leaner and meaner and it might just be the definitive version out of the two. “Swim Swim Swim” meanwhile speeds up "Don't Take a Swim", with the beat under the song now hurriedly shuffling along. I could go either way – I prefer the surrealistically chill vibe of the original version but the band themselves sound more excited in the remake and I do admit it's a little catchier, and in all honesty they both have their strengths to an equal degree.

The last two songs on Jesus are brand new but they still follow in the footsteps of People Go Missing, by ending the EP with two slow and atmospheric dirges. Much like with the first EP as well, these are lesser works compared to the rest and I can't help but feel like they're not here because the band though these were a couple of great songs they had ready that they needed to share, but rather because they wanted to mirror the debut EP and so purposefully wrote two similar pieces to match the original set of closers. That said, “Hell=” can sometimes catch the listener with its unassuming prettiness and delicacy, with some lovely gliding guitar work in its second half. The apocalyptic “Yes I Know But Thank You Anyway” is all about the build-up and gets almost post-rock-like as it continues its booming crescendo, but for all its dramatic bluster there's little to hold onto it beyond just the volume, and it's the weakest cut across the entire two-disc set. The last (and technically the first) song of the new EP is the lead track “Jesus”, which is more or less a radio edit of the Bad Conscience Patrol highlight "Jesus/Hypnotist", now with the extended collapse and rebuild of its middle section having been chopped off for radio consumption. While it's ostensibly been included because it was the last single of the album era and this is its roundabout single release, it's no coincidence that it's this song that leads this teaser trailer of where the band are right now: out of anything on the album and even across these two EPs, it's the colourful melodic lushness of "Jesus" that most clearly indicates what Rubik's future would look like.

Regardless, the main grab here is People Go Missing. As far as debut EPs go it's not a classic per se, but it's a powerful opening gambit and not only is it a worthy listen, but it's also worth going back to from time to time even after you've become familiar with the rest of the back catalogue. The Jesus side is a little more superfluous and it's mainly composed of good ideas rather than stand-out songs, but it makes for a curious companion to the original EP - and that's likely the intention too, rather than Rubik pretending these are strictly improved versions of the originals. It's certainly a far more interesting "extra" than the majority of early EP reissues get and worth a spin in itself, but unlike the "recommended" listening order I would start with the old songs and then move onto the new. The overall rating here falls squarely in the middle: a bit higher for People Go Missing, perhaps a little lower for Jesus.

Physically: Gatefold, with no booklet. The gatefold packaging in this is horribly tight, one of the tightest I've encountered - I remember causing a small tear onto the spine on my very first ever attempt at getting one of the discs out back in the day, and it's a miracle I've not damaged it even more over the years!


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