By Mark Abraham | 8 September 2007
For all the complaints I got about what many of you considered my low-balling of the new Caribou set, this is part of the reason, or rather “Superhimmeli” is by far the best Caribou song released this year. Creeping around on my back burner, too hot just to simmer, Kemialliset Ystävät is open-ended exposition on what is awesome about music in general, growing from the same psychedelically tongue-tied roots as Caribou, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Wooden Wand, Jackie-O Motherfucker, and all of our krautrock revivalism, somehow managing to latch those disparate bodies together into a statement that is, thus far this year, unparalleled. It also features some of the most dense, complex music this year too, so proceed accordingly. It is hungry.
Kemialliset Ystävät, the moniker for Finnish Jan Anderzén’s solo and collective work since 1995, have really tapped a vein on this new untitled disc, which is something like number 852 in their discography (kidding, but there’s a lot). It’s a mess of samples, detuned orchestral instruments, oscillators, growling, and actual instrumentation that blurs the lines between order and disorder brilliantly, collapsing songs together out of strange forays into abstract imagery that unite Faust and the Mothers of Invention with Sun Ra free jazz and Steve Reich sound experiments. And nails it, which is the important part, since anyone can lay slabs of noise overtop of each other, but Anderzén and crew sound like they have upended the sonic trickery of, say, Homotopy to Marie (1983), imploded it, turned it inside out, and thrown a jug band over top. “Himmelimenetelmä” is as good an example as any: a simple, ludicrous horn riff is led around by sawed voice samples, toothbrushes, a glockenspiel, oscillators, and finally some soft, beautiful vocals. With a polka bounce, which is why this album rules, because even in the midst of chaos it always pays attention to creating landmarks, and those landmarks are often hilarious. I, for one, love it when chaos makes me giggle.
“Valojuopot” almost lands like a tranq afterwards, ‘cept the quiet moments on this album are all the more busy, and the track features some serious delay/distortion/dilapidation that muddies up what is essentially an old minimalist trick: voice and chimes. The Tuvan throat-like singing that burbles beneath Adderly-elliptical oscillations tries to gasp above the deluge of somebody turning the tweak and tweeze nozzles; the wordless speech panned right keeps coming to conclusions, congratulating itself as the music takes another dive. “Lentävät sudet” might be the best example of the album’s humor; it’s hard to explain just how brilliant the production and arrangement is, but the amount of fine tuning it must have taken to get all this noise to sound like a folk march is nauseating to think about, especially since that faint wisp of sampled choral vocals at the beginning is chopped up and re-pasted throughout, gorging the serious tone it itself set before the track really began. Plus the panned garage guitar leads that out-sludge Black Mountain while not even really playing anything that resembles a rock riff.
There’s a real aura of folkness that permeates the album, and songs like “Näkymättömän hipaisuja” and “Kokki, leipuri, kylvettäjä ja taikuri (Enna 132 eaa.)” start off in strangely traditional ways before first the psych and then the electronics tend to rip them apart in ways that don’t ever truly rip them apart. “Näkymättömän hipaisuja” might superficially sound like one too many overdubs, perhaps, but the pleasure lies in the way the percussion runs over and under the time just enough to give the track a woozy momentum that defies the apparent inertia of the actual melody. “Tulinen kiihdytys” is similar in the sense that all those detuned strings that begin to round their melodies sound isolated in their own rooms, like you’re suddenly hearing snatches of 20 different practicing musicians in different places at once, each locked in their own interminable loop, but together the sound just soars.
The more overtly electronic tracks tend to emphasize more steady percussion. After the kick drops out, the chimes that while away beneath the chanting samples “Merkkejä iholla” erect hamster wheels like polygons; a rare moment of respite on an otherwise pushy album, the brief track bridges the gap between the raucous “Superhimmeli” and the (relatively) sparse “Himmelimenetelmä.” The former, a rambunctious explosion that spins outwards from an intro of acoustic guitar and kick, is the most immediate and accessible track on the album, again aiming somewhere between throat singing and gibberish but immediately contrasting that organic noise with grating oscillator waves. It’s a beautiful piece of music, and in fact the only criticism one might make is that it sounds a little too much like Caribou back when Caribou was Manitoba. Then again, given that this is the only track to actively sport that veneer, it’s easy to forgive—especially when the song is so blisteringly great.
The album ends with “Älyvaahtoa,” which gives up the ghost of the beat the album had in the first place, rocking random samples into a post-free improv stew, and “Himmeli kutsuu minua,” a gorgeous folkish tune that sprays oscillators and feedback over a plaintively strummed acoustic. The vocals (or possibly samples) that grind beneath the surface of the track give it an elegiac, epilogue feel, especially when the track peters out into a bubbly vent of synths and more choral vocals are heard like a bobble popping out of the water. That the album closes on such a quiet note is fitting; the album is as much about how its arrangement of noise makes you feel and the imagery evoked as it is about offering actual musical content. In that noise, you’re another instrument trapped in yet another room; you decide which boundaries are the important ones and how this music should proceed.