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Kemialliset Ystavat
Ullakkopalo Michael Waters , August 17th, 2010 16:29

It is difficult to paint a picture of Kemialliset Ystavat's sound to those who have not already come across them. There are acoustic textures that bring to mind the earlier, less sensible work of Animal Collective or múm (with whom musical director Jan Anderzén has previously collaborated). Additionally and conversely, some of the electronic timbres deployed are comparable to those used, to very different ends, by Boredoms and Black Dice. Acoustically well-crafted, these range from subtle to grating.

Yet I've arguably insulted Kemialliset by assuming that binary. There is no synthesis of "acoustic" and "electronic" here, but instead an egalitarian state where sounds have become objects disembodied from their sources. They're also liberated from those easy reference points: glockenspiels are not twee, chip synths are not from videogames, eastern originating percussion is not World Music (the contemptible term that it is). Having effortlessly achieved this balance there's a tribal feel to Anderzén's music that creates an impression of naivety; as if somehow a wandering feral infant has discovered FM synthesis.

It's difficult to determine whether each intensely colourful texture on Ullakkopalo arises from meticulous planning or ensemble improvisation. Is Kemialliset Ystavat a product of Anderzén's architecture or a refinement of transcendental jam outs with his peers? Either way, there is a sense of spontaneity, and veiling the nature of its genesis adds all the more to the indeterminacy driving the album's aesthetic. You don't know how half of the sounds are made: you don't need to. You don't know whether you are listening to a multi-tracked solo texture or a live collaborative one: you don't need to. Similarly, to justify any pronoun juggling, there is a further ambiguity concerning whether Kemialliset Ystavat is a solo artist or a band. Live ensemble sets and the name's rough translation as 'Chemical Friends' would suggest the latter, but the extent to which the recorded output is auteured is not revealed: once again, a presupposed distinction between the two is rejected.

However, being an accomplished sound-smith clearly does not take its toll on tune-penning prowess. The lines that emerge from the orchestration veer from triumphant to childlike; 'Kajastusmuseo' and 'Palava puolukka' are highlights in this respect. This is an intriguing development from their previous efforts, where anything that catches alight with a single prevalent melody is stamped out before it spreads through the forest. Ullakkopalo either sees melodiphobic tendencies replaced with a confident control over catchiness, or it sees Anderzén compromising his approach in favour of accessibility. It's your call, as listener. Overall, though, Ullakkopalo is yet another treat from the Fonal label, and the Finnish experimental scene.