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"Album review in Dusted Magazine"


Issued by the same record company and blessed with additional insular charms, Exile! (Verdura) is the maiden voyage by Helsinki’s Vuk, nee Emily Cheeger, a 22-year-old Finnish-American currently studying at Yale. The cover photo might suggest feminine, angst-ridden Goth, but the disc’s contents are infinitely more complex. Imagine a fierier, less frilly Björk, PJ Harvey or Nico lancing every commercial impulse from her repertoire, and you’ll have only vague insight into this woman’s deep, emotional bouts with death-gospel drama, esoteric organ-and-harmonium requiems, percussive chants and unbridled, youthful whimsy. Vuk’s material sometimes succumbs to its own preciousness, but her technical savvy (she plays nearly everything herself) and versatile delivery definitely compensate. She enchantingly swoops from stony declamations to avant-R&B purrs, casting a transcendent spell on such delicacies as the sensual, anguished title track and a giddy tango belted out in French. - Jordan Mamone

"Nordic Experiments"

Nordic Experiments
Irina Manta • A review of the album Exile! by Vuk
April 2003

Those who expect standard pop music fare should certainly stay away from the debut work “Exile!” whose artist’s name Vuk hides none other than one of Yale’s own, Finnish student Emily Cheeger, MC ’05. Vuk provides the voice, lyrics, and music composition for the album, and also plays most of the music consisting of guitar, percussion, and experimental sounds herself. It is with a mix of anguish and excitement that one enters her unique work.

The first song “Exile!” throws one into a gothic cathedral made of organ sound sand lyrics that speak of finding shelter in another’s “down-trodden garden.” While the music takes a while to get used to and fully appreciate, the range of Vuk’s voice haunts the listener many hours after the giving her CD a first try. One senses the influence of artists like fellow Nordic Björk in songs such as “Log- Book,” which speaks of lost love that now “glow[s] in the ashes of a firestrewn land.” In “Something Sinister,” Vuk describes mysterious spirits in her grandmother’s house and allows a more traditional, jazzy approach to take over and lend weight to her words that the “goddamn most sinisterest thing” is lurking around.

Some pieces, such as “Veronica,” may be less appealing to listeners with its signifi- Vuk Exile! Verdura Records cant reliance on spoken lyrics. The risk of monotony is, partially alleviated in the last verse, both through its beautiful lyrics “I find you not in the eyes of a preacher / Nor do I know you in a painted face / You are to me resplendent in your shroud / The imprint of your features / A brilliant mystery” and its unexpected sounds of tongues snapping against the insides of cheeks. The song, along with the drum-heavy “Daylight” do not engage the listener as fully as some of the other pieces whose repeated patterns are interrupted more frequently by novel background sounds, such as the ghost-like howling in “Exile!”

“Quebec,” a song about participating in the left-wing anarchist protest in Canada, manages to get away with repeating its own patterns. It does so through Vuk’s passionate expression of her anger and the tension inherent in the piece that reminds one of the musical “Les Misérables” with its revolutionary tone and underlying theme of endangered love. Recreating protest marches through metallic banging and drums, as well as an accusatory and sarcastic voice, Vuk shows the emotional motives and conflicts that can be experienced in the violently charged atmosphere. The lyrics say: “And when I lay outside the fields, outside the Wall / I longed for nothing but for you to be safe / And I almost felt guilty for asking in prayer for something / That would come between you and the fighting of our mutual enemies.” The conflict between personal love and fighting for a cause is an old one, but is especially heightened when one feels critical toward the movement in the first place. The narrator’s role as an outcast in the conflict before her is reiterated in the lines “And I didn’t throw a single cobblestone / And I wondered whether I was there to fight or to watch over you” and leaves her “cheated of both love and revolution,” with final doubts as to the lover’s loyalty if she refused to engage in the violence.

After the unrelenting rhythm of “Quebec”, the listener welcomes the musical change provided by “The Bridge,” a vocal piece that borrows from the style of African-American spirituals. Like previous songs, it interweaves several related themes in a short time span, beginning with the idea of deliverance through suicide, to a message of tolerance (“Lord have mercy on the living and the dying / And have mercy on the way we treat each other”) ending with “If I had my way / I’d have left this town long ago and / I’d tear this building down.” She thus subtly addresses the possibility that suicide itself does not spring from an actual desire for death, but as the only solution to escape pain. Rather than perform the external harm one’s anger longs to enact, the path of self-destruction is chosen. The fall from the bridge, however, becomes the ultimate rejection of society: “And I’m gonna stare down into the waters / And if you see me goin’ down / To the bridge at the end / You will know I am looking to be free.”

In case one has not yet been convinced of Vuk’s diversity of musical styles, her last song consists of a carefully discordant tango whose French lyrics along with the use of accordion and whistling take the listener by surprise. The lines that translate to “If I could only send you one degree of the fever that you raise in me” seem to wrap up the project of Vuk’s CD: to bring across the intense emotions inside the artist’s mind. Vuk’s album, while containing some flaws such as occasional overburdening patterns and problems in technical sound quality, represents a brilliant and complicated work by a woman who has at this early stage of her career already proven her ability to pioneer experimental music. She has described her project as follows: “With my organ, my harmonium, my scrap-metal, my sampler and my vocal chords as instruments, I seek to explore the musical medium with a relentless passion for the idiosyncratic.” She has certainly done so with great success; curious minds can rest assured that they will not regret buying her album and will look forward to future works from this promising artist.

Irina Manta, Publisher, is a senior in Branford College.

- Irina Manta, The Yale Free Press


The Plains, LP (Pyramid/Johanna kustannus, 2009)

Rakkauden liekistö, cover EP (Johanna kustannus, 2008)

Exile! LP (Verdura, 2003)

Cabaret Nocturno III, compilation LP, 1 song (Zerga, 2003)



Vuk is a Finnish-American artist whose unique music carries sonic strains that weave themselves into a rich, colorful tapestry of experimental rock, Balkan vocal music, meticulously layered organ harmonies, inventive instrumentation and polyrhythmic walls of Vodou percussion. Her songs explore inner, fictional landscapes sculpted by dreams, sex, trauma, death and spiritual ecstasy. Live, Vuk expands into a percussion-organ-and-autoharp-driven trio, and the sound of the pump organ takes center stage next to Vuk's startling voice. "The Plains," released in Finland in 2009 to unanimous critical acclaim, is her sophomore album.

(Note: If reading this EPK before more than one song has been added, go to to listen to material from "The Plains" etc.)

Vuk has been making music all her life, ever seeking to find new ways to surprise and move her listeners. Within the past few years, Vuk has toured the U.S. with Fever Ray (who hand-picked her to be her opening act), played in and toured the U.S. with Dirty Projectors, toured Europe extensively, been selected to play main venues at Eurosonic and The Great Escape as well as sharing billing with the likes of Ellie Goulding, Efterklang, Owen Pallett and Jenny Wilson. And all this without international distribution! She is currently working on her third full-length album.

Some quotes on Vuk and "The Plains":

"This radiant album operates on a level above dry platitudes, and with its power, renders meaningless any demands that would inhibit its growth or diminish its complexity."****

"[Vuk is] responsible for one of the most imaginative, creative releases this year. [...] New layers and details constantly surface"
- Peter Krogholm,

"an incredibly arranged masterpiece of a song album" ****'

"One of the top Finnish albums of 2009." *****
- Hämeen Sanomat

"6/6" (- TS viikkoliite), "9/10" (-Sue), "*****" (-

"Her songs summon up the choral and the ancient, funnelled through a modern mind. [...] Vuk's music is mysterious, deeply fascinating and fabulously original."
-A New Band A Day

"You can expect nothing but surprises from Vuk. [She] has created a spellbinding album, and unpredictability is one of The Plains' absolute strengths. [...) Vuk avoids the common pitfalls of experimental noise musicians. Not only that, but her pop sensibility caresses the ear." ****
- Marko Ylitalo, Rumba

"Critics battling space limitations may opt to describe The Plains with such tired platitudes as "magical," "uncompromising" and "ambitious" (words this album will no doubt attract like a magnet), but there are few other ways to describe one of the most interesting albums released in Finland this year."
- Samuli Knuutti, Image

On the live show:

"[Her vocals are] beautifully fragile and beautifully taunting and, in general, always straight-up powerful."
- Brandon Stosuy, Stereogum

"[Vuk] really doesn't sound a great deal like anyone else. She doesn't, for instance, sound vocally anything like Kate Bush - if anything, she's more of a female Nick Cave in that department - and yet there is something of the long-ago young Kate's free spirit and dream-influenced feel to her compositions. Blending the organic with the electronic, her wooden organ and autoharp with her backing players' synth and percussion, she pulls together echoes of Icelandic post-rock, Eastern European folk and the pretty melodies of Swedish-spec lo-fi indie."
- Cath Aubergine, Manchester Music

"[Vuk performed] unprecedented wonders in a territory somewhere between that of PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Anette Peacock, a church organist on acid and ancient Bulgarian folksongs. [...] If justice prevails, Vuk will be the next sensation of [experimental] music. In truth, she already is."
-Jussi Niemi, Aamulehti

"chilling, beautiful, and pristine"

"startlingly beautiful"
- Susie Wild, Clash

"gorgeously rich"
- Spinning Platters