Tag Archives: Nightwish

Transylvanilla Presents: How Is It The 20th

So it’s the Holiday Season one and all, and let’s get this one out of the way early: a lot of you are excited for Christmas next week. And Christmas time means Christmas Music, and Christmas Music means Michael Bublé. Music to fall asleep slammed on rum and eggnog to – so let’s put this one straight on the table:

Christmas music is terrible. 

Christmas Music is some of the laziest pop of the last 60 years. 

And I’m not kidding about the last 60 years – you’re aware that most of the beloved Christmas hits are eery utopian 1950’s fantasies articulated through some of the laziest songwriting in history… right? And let’s not get me started on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Coercion in C Major” whatever that song’s original title must have been. It’s like 5 days til Christmas, Transylvanilla readers, and if you’re anything like me you’re headed to the mall like right now to get that shopping in before the inevitable last-day all-out beatdown at the local Toys’R’Us over whatever Adventure Time gear is in vogue right now. It’s cool, you can do this, you’re Saint Nicholas, you’re Santa you’re… well maybe you’re Krampus. I’m not your boss.You’re gonna march right in there and buy the hell out of that Blood On The Dance Floor album for your inexplicably tone-deaf little nephew. Yes you are.

But you’re going to wear headphones.

Because you’re sure as heck not doing it to the mall’s terrifying menagerie of Christmas Muzak, you’re better than that and you know it. 

And hey, maybe I’m better than that and maybe I’m not – but I know what I like, and I’m an irreligious East Van Music Guy. Maybe you are too, or maybe you just want to see me faceplant into some of my more embarrassing musical selections. So what do we play around here at Transylvanilla Publishing a.k.a. The Crow’s Nest a.k.a. The Krampus Den when it’s freezing out? Glad you asked. Introducing:

Transylvanilla’s 2013 Christmas Throwdown: Baby, It’s Cold Outside (but I understand and respect that you’re more comfortable going home, so maybe another time)

Some of it is even gonna be Christmas-themed! Fun!

Disclaimer: This list comes with the knowledge and assumption that you know I’m kind of about to embarrass myself. This also isn’t a Christmas List: these are the things that take me to Winter, when I’m feeling Wintery, and I think we might all benefit from knowing what music makes me feel like it’s snowing out. ‘Tis the season etc. and so on!

水田直志 – The Final Fantasy XI Piano Collections

Okay, so maybe I’m starting a little weird, but this is by far my favourite Christmas-season album of all time. And of course it has nothing to do with Christmas – this piano collection is nothing more or less than two Japanese pianists wandering through solo (and duet) piano performances of several of Final Fantasy XI’s more memorable tunes. It’s absolutely gorgeous – it’s the kind of thing I can’t properly put a label on, but I can say I’ve been listening to this thing for years on end, every winter, and that I bought it at an Asian music store at least 7 years ago. Please, give it a shot and you’ll see what I mean – this is simply some of the most gorgeous contemporary piano stuff I’ve heard in a long time. So there’s something solitary and uniquely rhythmic about a solitary piano performance that I’ve always equated to long evenings spent inside watching the snow fall outside – and no doubt this falls back to my own childhood, shackled to the piano as I was. Regardless, weirdly enough this thing is my quintessential christmas album. But don’t worry – we’ll get weirder.

Agalloch – Marrow of the Spirit

We’re going to do a lot of genre meandering here, but I can’t stress this next part enough: if you’re into the weirder, more subtly artistic side of black metal, I cannot advocate Marrow of the Spirit heavily enough for winter listening. And of course Black Metal (and, really, metal of all varieties) plays so wonderfully during winter – the queer calmness of the landscape, muted by snow. The flurry of snowflakes. The bitter cold. This album, maybe more than any other I’ll show here, was explicitly recorded to sound like winter, and I’ve rarely heard an album that portrays that Pacific-Northwestern soggy cold quite as well. Look at that cover! Listen to this nine-minute song about a lake! Agalloch writes winding, massive opuses spanning dynamic range, musical influence (Folk Black Metal!) and… a lot of time, clearly. Discovered a few years ago, Agalloch quickly became my gateway into a lot of Black Metal’s weirder impulses, a surprising amount of which are being exercised right here in the Pacific Northwest. They’re a fantastic band, and if this happens to floor you, I quietly and fervently gesture in the direction of Wolves in the Throne Room’s Celestial Lineage as well. Which is a concept album about, apparently, moss.

Akira The Don – Saturnalia Superman: Akira The Don Salutes the Majesty of Christmas

You knew I wasn’t getting out of here without bringing this dude into it, didn’t you? Though technically ATD-whichever, Akira’s Christmas album (and it is one, the first on this list) really stands apart from a lot of his catalogue – it’s well produced, well put-together and – oh, I’ve already reviewed it. And.. I liked it! Well that’s a relief. In all honesty, the album is a ton of fun, and he’s got it online so I’ll waste no time with links. Akira, a friend of the show, just knows how to have fun. He also knows how to keep Christmas in his own odd way – while simultaneously being a punk about Santa, poking holes in the myth of December 25th, wrangling a weirdly sexy duet out of fellow UK-rapper Envy, producing a beautiful, largely instrumental track with his Father-in-Law and telling us all about doing acid on Christmas. Yep. Naturally, this is a Yuletide hit around these parts – and would be even if it weren’t a blast, because at least it wasn’t written in the 50’s as a culture-vampirizing cash-grab, maaaan. I love my Christmas good and critical, which also largely validates our next choice…

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick: One Christmas At A Time

Last Christmas I sat on the floor, listened to “Christmas Is Interesting” north of about 5 times in a row and just… thought about life. Recorded as a very intentional response to the crap pop music we’re all inevitably exposed to each winter, One Christmas At A Time is a fantastic little collection of odd christmas tunes written by odd Christmas men – and this is Jonathan Coulton of course, the man that wrote the Portal song and that track about being an evil genius, so yes the quirk level is fairly high. There’s a Johnny Cash tribute, “2600” about wanting an Atari, the tear-jerking “Christmas Is Interesting”, a song about a drunk family member – it’s really all here. This one’s basically impossible to look up online (that is, to youtube) so you’ll have to go on a recommendation and just grab it. I bought this one on a whim and was completely impressed; the songwriting ranges from laugh-inducing to eerily incisive (and that’s Coulton for you), the guitar-work (largely courtesy of the brilliant John Roderick) is gorgeous, and the whole thing just feels like a modern, appropriately critical Christmas. It’s grand.

Oh and there’s a track in which they just read out the Wikipedia entry for Hanukkah to a techno beat. So that’s pretty great.

Aivi and Surasshu – The Black Box

Here’s a fun one, and a project I’d really like to draw more attention to. The Black Box comes with a pretty piano music warning, but runs on a real neat premise: it’s a story about a girl making a robot friend, told simultaneously through a series of synthesizer/piano duets and the comic that comes with the album. It’s not complicated, and it isn’t going to blow your mind, but the musical direction behind these two pianists (as well as their musical chemistry) is simply fantastic. The synthesizer side will flip into chiptune influences, or squeak out some Sonic The Hedgehog-style casino-horns, just as the piano side will shimmer brilliantly and arpeggiate into a Mario quotation, or a Katamari Damacy one, or the Final Fantasy theme. It’s a really interesting, novel approach to making music – simultaneously telling their own story, writing their own jazz, and flipping perpetually to various videogame references – and it really sets the duo apart. Additionally, and this is aside from my propensity for loving piano music when it’s snowing, all of The Black Box skitters and dances; it never gets particularly heavy, invasive or bass-involved. Which is to say it’s perfect snowfall-music. It’s relaxing, it’s pretty, it’s available for whatever you feel like paying. So please do pick it up – I have a feeling these two independents need all the support we can give them – and the comic isn’t half-bad either.

GZA – Liquid Swords

I might have to do a lot of things on this site, but I know I don’t have to tell you why you need to be listening to Liquid Swords, right? Like, if you care about hip-hop at all there’s a pretty absurdly sizable list of reasons you need to have heard it. Aside from the lyrical acrobatics, the GZA’s centipede-consistent flow, the rock-solid consistency (and occasional weirdness!) of RZA’s production, the brilliance of Method Man’s cameos (and how his voice contrasts to GZA’s), the brilliance of imagery, the absolutely baffling final track “B.I.B.L.E.” – I’m not kidding. Rap fans can kind of sit around and evangelize Liquid Swords all day. Above and beyond all that, it just sounds cold, it’s an album that sounds amazing walking around at night, listening to Liquid Swords, grasping a hot rum and eggnog. If you haven’t tried it, do it. You’ll see what I mean. It’s just that simple.

Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Here’s another one I’ve already reviewed – though I don’t think that necessarily excuses me from including it here. Why not the other Nightwish albums, why not Oceanborn (your easy alternative if you, like many other fans, wholly-justifiably hate their new vocal direction). Imaginaerum is one of those albums I was reviewing a couple of Christmases ago – a time I spent a lot of time at home, playing Killing Floor near my window (like an adult.) and watching the snow come down. Lo and behold, what might otherwise have been something of a hammy record – if a brilliantly produced one – slowly grew on me, to the point that its Gothic theme-park aesthetic (intentionally wintery) gradually subsumed itself into my winter listening ritual-thing. “Taikatalvi” is still suitably eery, “Slow Love” still sounds like a sleazy(er?) Twin Peaks throwback, “Song of Myself” is still totally baffling. But there’s a grandiosity to its melodrama, and certainly to its production, that proves irresistible during this season. It’s very much Metal-if-Burton-had-gone-back-to-Disney, but in its own special way Imaginaerum is exhilarating and fun and oddly comforting – it’s a warm album, to contrast to nearly every other album on this list’s frigidity. To be listened to, preferably, while playing Killing Floor. Near a fireplace. To be avoided if you’re at all concerned about being kvlt.

Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle Earth

Not only more faithful to Tolkein than Peter Jackson’s intepretations, but actually more faithful to Peter Jackson than Peter Jackson’s interpretations, I completely understand if you’re giggling at me right now while my metal cred slowly drips away. That’s fine, because if you’re in on this one, you know, man. “Nightfall“, “Blood Tears“, “When Time Stand Still (At the Iron Hill)” – I’m not kidding, this thing is The Silmarillion‘s Beowulf-ian logical conclusion, Tolkein as epic power-metal rock-opera, complete with questionable voice-acting and a reverse-order telling of Tolkein’s most notoriously-unread work. Absolutely it’s silly, it’s also the ultimate speed-metal soundtrack to your next Dark Souls session. If Marrow of the Spirit wants to sound like gurgling brooks and falling snow, Nightfall in Middle Earth is Skyrim, complete with the blizzards and bloodshed. Falling directly at the point between Blind Guardian’s speed-metal roots and their transformation into Queen Tribute Band it can be argued this is the best they ever got, and certainly the single best album 14 year-old Lucas could ever have hoped to discover. Just check all seriousness at the door and pick up your shield. They aren’t kidding, and neither am I. Nightfall.

Amebix – Sonic Mass

Yep, this one again from once-crust-Punks Amebix, if you wanted metal to restore your faith in dead-serious metal after Blind Guardian’s Tolkeinian romp, here you go. As dark and heavy as it is ponderous and forceful, Sonic Mass has been a favourite since the moment friend Ryeburg and I discovered it. An album to be listened to on dark nights while walking, Sonic Mass is ominous and empowering, a dark time-traveling saga whose story I have yet to wholly parse. Laser-sighted to strike at the heart of a metalhead’s pride, “Days” is a mortality-based tearjerker, “Sonic Mass” is a metal soundscape in two parts, “God of the Grain” collects gods throughout history under one crushing, danceable banner (and is as close to anything Christmas-y you’ll find here). Not bad for a bunch of old Crust Punks turned heavy-metallers turned retirees. They came out of the blue to release this album, and disappeared just as suddenly. Heavily, unironically recommended for you metalheads that haven’t heard it yet, Sonic Mass will be a late-night favourite here at The Nest for a long time to come.

Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain

Remember everything I said about Liquid Swords up there? All still true. Vaudeville Villain by, ahem, Viktor Vaughn aka Madvillain aka King Gheedorah aka DangerDoom aka Zev Love X aka JJ DOOM aka Mr. Clean aka MF DOOM aka Daniel Duhmile (and I’m sure I missed a couple) as a deeply weird, swept-under-the-rug sort of hip-hop album. Viktor Vaughn (as in, Victor Von Doom, as in Dr. Doom of Marvel fame) is MF Doom’s young hustler persona, still learning the ropes, and existing in a sort of topsy-turvy version of gangland New York, a vaguely surreal place in which old ladies carry heat and stick up their would-be attackers. Viktor is sort of crap at this whole hustler thing, and that comes out through his lyricism – and of course no one can carry wordplay quite like Mf Doom. Along with his plethora of producer buddies, Viktor Vaughn is also Mf Doom’s multi-collaborative project, working with anyone that supplies him with a sufficiently icy beat to rhyme over. And I suppose that’s why this one comes out when it gets cold outside – I’m not looking for the basement-warm comfort of an Mf Doom joint, nor the murkiness of the King Gheedorah project, or Madvillain’s summery and hazy weirdness – I want a guy out on the streets, trying to make ends meet, and who kind of sucks at it. And so Vaudeville Villain worms its way into the Christmastime playlist for the same reasons Liquid Swords does: it’s a rock solid hip-hop album bolstered by a strong anchor in weird and an utterly unique lyrical attraction. It also sounds real good out there in the cold, y’all.

Venetian Snares – My Downfall (Official Soundtrack)

It’s difficult to describe exactly what Aaron Funk is up to with his Venetian Snares project without forcing you to listen to it, so I suppose I’ll just do that. Crushing in its precision, but gorgeous in the way it utilizes classical under and overtones alongside its crashing waves of breakcore samples, My Downfall is as beautiful as it is intimidating, and my favourite album of his (amongst other reasons, because the soundtrack structure forces Funk into a kind of concision and sobriety he usually avoids). Not an easy listen, but in its own strange way a beautiful one, My Downfall is better experienced than explained. Wintery for the same reason I obsess over piano music during the holiday season, I suppose – it gives me that classical edge I crave without necessarily polluting it with Christmas-guilt, or pop nonsense, or religious affiliation. Classical Music for the musical nihilist during this, the holiday season.

Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

If you’re wondering why this is on here, shame on you. Duh. I don’t need to explain a damn thing about The Charlie Brown Friggin Christmas Album – aka some of the finest jazz interpretations of Christmas music we ever got, alongside absolutely beautiful original compositions. Bonus points for including “Christmas Time Is Here”, one of the most unintentionally(?) heartbreaking holiday-season songs of all time. Nothing like it, before or after. (Except maybe “Christmas Is Interesting”).

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DJ Shadow – Endtroducing

Please, please listen to Endtroducing. This is almost on here as a charity thing, as I listen to it during long winter nights, yes, but also all other times of the year, provided the sun is down. Endtroducing is nothing more or less than my favourite album of all time, and I’m not kidding, and I won’t recall that for anything. Wait until you’re feeling quiet, calm, and maybe a little lonely. Let Endtroducing simultaneously exorcise and exacerbate your winter blues in the way only the best winter albums can. Cobbled entirely from samples, there’s nothing like it – take a look.

Afroman: Colt 45 Christmas

Like that relative you really don’t want to see, or that neighbour that just kind of… wanders over during your Christmas party, I can’t not include Colt 45 Christmas. I also sort of can’t explain Colt 45 Christmas. This is down here like a sort of gambit to see if you’ve read this far, to be honest (Hi Mom! Please don’t listen to Colt 45 Christmas, Mom!). It’s a classic, in its own awful way. I can’t not. I have to. And when I’m done, I whisper “I’m sorry” out into the world. To no one. To everyone.

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Yuletide TL;DR

So there you have it, friends and (now, no doubt) various foes! The sorts of things that end up on my ipod come Christmas, Holiday seasons. If it’s cold outside, so turns my taste to different sorts of music. Please, by all means, I advocate jumping on whatever your music-delivery service is and copping as many of these as necessary. Though far from exhaustive, I hope this list has given you people at least something new to chew on this Holiday season. Remember: just because you aren’t religious, just because you’re literally physically allergic to the sound of Michael Bublé’s voice, doesn’t mean there isn’t music out there that you can’t associate with the season. Because it’s still about the season, and maybe musical tokens, played annually, that can draw you back to that place – close to your family, dog, girlfriend, whatever – is a valuable thing.

Feel free to share your own, here or on the Facebook thing. We’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming as soon as the Holidays relent their icy grip on my time.

Happy Holidays 2013 y’all. Thanks for sticking around.

– Transylvanilla

Oh I forgot to mention Chopin. Yeah, listen to as much Chopin as possible. Have a loved one nearby.

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Nightwish – Imaginaerum

Time for another album by that band, with the operatic female singer, with the mythological imagery, with the symphonic arrangements and the heavy-metal guitars! Evanescence! Okay, it’s Nightwish, but you get the joke – a band has to work real hard to make a case for itself in female-led symphonic metal these days. When it comes to bands like the two above, the similarities are multitude (though Evanescence technically beat Nightwish to the table by a year): female vocalist, heavy orchestra, operatic vocals, mystical imagery, and a penchant for power chords. The defining make-or-break difference, of course, is ambition: Nightwish is Finland’s most profitable musical export, they were a foundational influence to bands like Epica, they’re charged with crystallizing the female-led symphonic metal genre – in a real sense they helped open symphonic metal to a female audience (and girl vocalists!) without letting it suck. For their last two albums they’ve recruited Pip Williams – the noted orchestral director whom at this point might as well be a band-member – and while doing so mysteriously and ceremoniously dumped vocal powerhouse Tarja Turunen for Anette Olzon (at 40, six years her senior), to the chagrin of many a longtime fan. Imaginaerum is Olzon’s second album with the band, after 2007’s just-okay Dark Passion Play – which included one of the most epic female-led symphonic roller-coasters out there – but here on Imaginaerum she really hits her groove; to hear Metal Hammer tell it, this is Metal Album of the Year. To hear the sales figures tell it, Imaginaerum went double-platinum in Finland on the day of its release. High praise, indeed – so is Imaginaerum Nightwish’s finest hour, and symphonic metal album of the year? If you know what you’re getting into, and you don’t mind the odd timpani-drum or song about mermaids, it just might be.

For many, as on Dark Passion Play, Olzon’s inclusion is going to be the major sticking point of this album: Tarja was a vocal juggernaut, her super-operatic voice overflowing from tracks and helping to make Nightwish one of the most idiosyncratic symphonic metal bands out there (even while unbalancing a large part of their efforts). Some of that idiosyncrasy is indeed lost with Olzon, and at times her considerably more-conventional vocals do tend to take backseat on these tracks, at times lost in the bombastic choral and orchestral arrangements (when she isn’t thoroughly over-dubbed) – and this would be a huge problem if she didn’t recognize her weaknesses and tune her presentation accordingly. When Olzon connects, the results are absolutely some of Nightwish’s coolest moments yet: “Slow, Love, Slow”, of all things, was inspired by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and emerges as a slithering bluesy romantic meditation (written by Audrey, we can only assume). “Storytime” is almost an homage to their old ways, stomping out of the gate accompanied by Nightwish’s trademark power-metal riffage and an orchestral arrangement that vaults Olzon’s multi-tracked love-letter to Literature into Imaginaerum’s obligatory Finnish chart-topping single, and features a poppy chorus the likes of which Tarja could never have brought us (with a video that begs us not to take them seriously). “Taikatalvi” gives us exclusively male vocals in Finnish, a rarity and a lullabye (and a Moomin tribute) whose orchestrations are subtle and beautiful. When Imaginaerum falls into place, as it often does, it reveals itself as Nightwish’s most thematically and instrumentally confident work yet.

Speaking of cohesion, would this be a Transylvanilla review if Imaginaerum weren’t a concept-album? Of course not: loosely (or tightly, if you ask the band), Imaginaerum is the story of a dying composer imaginatively reliving key moments of his life, which was apparently a Tim Burton film. That isn’t a dig or a joke either: Imaginaerum really is an upcoming film (by “The Islander” director Stobe Harju), and the band has expressed its heavy reliance on a trifecta of influences including Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman and Salvador Dáli (let’s call this The Holy Gothic Trinity, eh?). These influences do emerge as well, with Pip Williams’ Elfman-tinged orchestrations doing an fantastic job of bringing life to the otherwise now-generic Nightwish formula of blasting horns and choral refrains – in fact, the bonus disc contains nothing but his orchestrations. It stands handily on its own, too – for Tarja devotees, the bonus disc may prove a far superior album. Good luck actually following the storyline (they swear its in there!): lyrically this is very much a Nightwish album, all magic and fantasy and imagination, and I can’t say that even after several listens any track is jumping out at me lyrically the way “The Islander” did back on Dark Passion Play, though their dabbling in intertext certainly appeals to me. Despite this, some tracks still jump the shark entirely – the 13-minute “Song of Myself” is, as my significant other described it, “an abomination and an insult to Walt Whitman,” and while I might not completely agree, it certainly positions itself as an homage (to the point that some are confusing it for a read-through of the famous poem itself). Sadly, if you know Whitman, it entirely fails to stand up under close lyrical inspection. Mind, if you don’t know Whitman (or ignore the reference) at thirteen choir-filled moments it certainly positions itself as the album’s apex, and is at this point prototypical of their style (which means good). Like all Nightwish releases, Imaginaerum stands up for itself most effectively when it’s shoving power-chords under its enormous orchestral, folk, and mythological influences, which thankfully it does on every single track.

So, is Imaginaerum Nightwish’s greatest work? Does it deserve Metal Album of the Year in a world where bands like Agalloch and Amebix exist to make music? Well, not necessarily. Make no mistake, Imaginaerum is Nightwish’s most musically diverse entry yet, to the extent that Pip Williams was given free license to craft this for the album’s closer and came up with a practically Disney orchestral sing-along of every track on the album (beautiful, silly). Speaking of Disney, like much fantasy and mythologically-entrenched work, it can be very hard to take Nightwish seriously, especially during their more heady narrative moments or when you find out they inked an endorsement deal with a Disney Comics Magazine to promote the album’s most potentially pretentious and boring, poppy track, “The Crow, The Owl and The Dove”. The extensively fantastic lyrics (in the fictional sense) can be exhaustive and occasionally threaten to fall flat on their mystical faces, as on the power-metal “Last Ride of the Day”. If you’re a big Walt Whitman fan (or a scholar), you’ll need to acquire the orchestral mix of “Song of Myself” and swap it into the album’s playlist to retain your sanity. As with all Nightwish work, Imaginaerum is over-the-top, bombastic and carries very little of what might pass for subtlety. Then again it’s Nightwish, dammit, and whether or not this is a problem for you will depend almost entirely on whether or not you wish Evanescence would be more fantasy-oriented, more sensory-overloading with their instrumentals, and whether or not you can stomach anyone but Tarja (the-vocal-Atom-Bomb) on the mic.

If, as a listener, you don’t approach Nightwish just so, you’re going to laugh it off as poppy faux-literature – which is fine, as the entire symphonic metal genre seems to labour under that yoke. Yes, they’re a new band now, and that turn is going to be a bit jarring to anyone that disliked or flat-out avoided Dark Passion Play; Nightwish isn’t Tarja’s house any more, and hasn’t been for six years. If, however, you’re prepared to listen to what might be Nightwish’s most ambitious, thematically cohesive and orchestrally exciting work yet, then yes, there’s a very good chance you’re going to love it. You’ll probably even give it Symphonic Metal Album of the Year. Take Imaginaerum at face value, remember it’s alright to have fun with your fantasy tropes and your fantasy music. There’s nothing wrong with re-reading The Golden Compass or Bay Wolf while you’re at it. Pretend you’re a wide-eyed kid again, that things like snow-covered crows’ wings and a number called “Turn Loose the Mermaids” don’t have to be condescending or hokey. Christmas is coming, and fantasy just seems to fit the mood: if you aren’t religiously inclined (or are symphonic metal inclined), let Nightwish dethrone Trans-Siberian Orchestra as your twinkling Festivus music this year. They’ve worked hard, they’ve earned it.

8.5

Editorial note: Yes they’re a guilty pleasure. No, it isn’t my favourite Nightwish album. “Oceanborn” is, duh. This doesn’t come out in North America until January 10th, 2012, so don’t go looking for it on store shelves. How did I get ahold of it, you ask? Haahaha Vancouver is in Finland, silly. Hyvää joulua!

PS. You and me? We’re seeing this movie when it comes out. 

Originally published right here, December 2011.

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