Various Artists


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Estonia's musical underground is, as one might guess of a small country with a tenuous presence on the world's musical radar to start with (noted names like Arvo Pärt aside), not the most well known. But the years following the country's independence have seen an increasing number of accomplished performers appearing on the fringes, and Toatuur, a compilation from the Ounaviks label, helps to capture a range of both established and newer voices. Described by the label as bringing together "troubadours, home recorders and electroacoustic freaks," Toatuur -- or "Backroom Trip" in English -- tends to emphasize quieter, acoustic based artists on the whole; as can be expected from any such compilation, the resultant mix ranges from enjoyable enough to honestly striking. Guitar, hammered dulcimer and other traditional instruments are often showcased, as are fine harmony vocals which definitely show the strong influence of the country's musical history. Examples include Barbariz's "Üle Kodumäe" and Pastacas' "Hommik," the latter almost feeling like a cut-up piece of folk glitch; both are standouts. Solo performers of note include Mari Kalkun, whose "Muidu Ei Saakski" and "Talvine Ohtu" showcase her sweetly cool singing in a Nick Drake vein, and the similarly voiced Erko Niit possesses a warm, rolling tone on his back to back contributions. More experimental efforts include Iduvigik's "Unenaoaeg," with gentle female vocals over a murky, echoed clattering, Tarx's quick, static-laden oddity "Sepa Hommik," and Fein Ruks & the Metallophon's "Palju Varve," where calm acoustic tones and a cappella vocals are backed by a sometimes discordant brass-led orchestration. With 23 tracks by almost as many performers, Toatuur moves briskly, each performer's contribution rarely exceeding three minutes and in many cases barely topping two, creating a feeling of swift but at times quite memorable introductions.

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