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Vladislav Delay - Kuopio

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Artist: Vladislav Delay

Album: Kuopio

Label: Raster-Noton

Review date: Jan. 29, 2013

For those of us who didn’t grow up following Vladislav Delay’s career and encountered Sasu Ripatti instead as the author of some canonical microhouse and experimental-techno records, his body of work can be a hard nut to crack. The agreed-upon greatness of albums like Multila can be hard to connect with in daily life: a bit remote, serious, the product of a certain, very different context. Luckily for listeners convinced mentally but not viscerally of his talent, Delay has rarely sounded as hungry as he does on Kuopio, his nth album under the moniker and one that seems positioned to foster renewed appreciation of his singular approach.

What’s immediately apparent is that the customary murk has been scrubbed away, revealing a pointillist, evolving landscape of hits that collude in unexpected ways. The skipping hip-hop beat that introduces "Hetkonen" backs up Delay’s unorthodox assertion that he’s influenced by pop and doesn’t particularly like electronic music. While Kuopio is most relevant to techno, it literally feels as if it’s coming from outside the genre, blissfully ignorant of formal expectations yet nailing the vibe. There are definitely song-like ideas and passages in each track, but overall they’re polymorphous in a way that speaks to the improv skills he honed in the Moritz von Oswald Trio and his own Quartet.

From another perspective, Kuopio is a kind of drummer’s record: It’s a bunch of beats, short tones, and a few melodic ideas that Delay groups into meshing, phasing grids, a compromise between the disjunction of drum solos and keeping a steady beat. Asymmetrical spring reverb and ultra-rare delay units probably haven’t disappeared from the production, but aren’t laying down a thick environmental carpet. It’s kind of like a magic eye picture – stand far enough away and it is a clutter of patterns, but if you experiment with getting closer, the figure emerges somewhere in between. On some level, this is how the foggier Chain Reaction releases worked, too, but the more up-front sonics of Kuopio have the swagger of tangible mastery. It’s fun, in other words, something that was harder to hear than the music itself on the icy lowercase electro-acoustics of an album like 2009’s Tummaa.

In this sense, the album looks less like an outgrowth of earlier Vladislav Delay records and more like a Delay-ization of the relatively straight techno album he made as Sistol, On the Bright Side. It’s not all so abstract, after all. "Kulkee" sounds like Rhythm & Sound-esque dub techno infiltrated by alien b-boys — lumpy, maybe somewhat parodical in its exaggeration, an inoffensive radicalism that I associate more with fashion than electronic music. The basic premise of wondering what will happen if you let the machines go buck wild isn’t a hard one to devise, but the distance between the idea and where Delay takes it is quietly astonishing. It’s hard to imagine another producer devising a track like "Marsila," whose sounds seem like they should be sliding quickly into entropy, much less keeping it fresh for eight minutes. Despite its velocity, the album is ambient in the sense that it sounds best when heard with the same indirect, free-associative attention that’s behind it.

By Brandon Bussolini

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