(Ultra Eczema/Beta-lactam Ring/Fonal; 2006/2007/2009)
By Joel Elliott | 3 July 2009
After my $2 cheap ear buds had given out I finally got around to investing in some low-end Skullcandys, the kind that go several inches into your ear canal, pop through the eardrum and lodge somewhere directly in your temporal lobe. I can’t think of a better way to enjoy what I can only imagine is the last few weeks of functional hearing I’ll ever have (as well as the ability to categorize objects, recognize faces, and retrieve memories if my first-year Psych textbook is accurate) than by blasting these two reissues of Tomutonttu, the moniker of Jan Anderzén, of Kemialliset Ystävät fame. If the idea of a solo project is to chisel down the full-band arrangements into something more concise and personal then what Anderzén is doing here is zeroing in on tiny, ephemeral details of the dense and democratic mass of sounds found in Kemialliset Ystävät. Rather than sound tamer or less anarchic, Tomutonttu sounds gleefully capricious, a piercing analog assault that ditches most of the acoustic instrumentation that added some level of comfort to his collaborative projects.
In that respect, Tomutonttu isn’t remotely folk, not even of the free- variety. At times it’s as harsh as Daniel Menche or Carlos Giffoni, but if those artists used cute whistles and birdsongs. The word “ergot” seems to be thrown around a lot in reviews for some reason, and I suppose it’s apt: rather than coming across like a designer hallucinogenic, it’s all vascoconstriction of blood vessels, neurotropic convulsions, uterine contractions, and quite possibly the pre-French Revolution “Great Fear” (maybe Beowulf and the Salem witch trials, too, if Wikipedia is to be trusted). Which isn’t to say that it isn’t a lot of fun but that its implications are a little more dire than a bellyache. Also, people need to practice safe grain harvesting, is my point.
Of the two Tomutonto (that’s not confusing) has the heavier, more bleeding-ears noise levels, at least at the start. Deep bass gradually consumes high-pitched squeaks and squeals on the opening track while Track 2 alternates between sudden bursts of electronics and silence. But over the course of the album, these harsher elements seem to give way to demented voices and other more subtly unsettling elements, to the point where Track 9 is mostly just drifting ambiance. In some ways it’s these latter elements which make the record more imposing, in the same way that the album cover is nauseating, but more-so when you notice the little elephant in the top-right corner with a toothache who’s guzzling either medicine or liquor with his trunk. See also Track 3, with all kinds of slowed-down and sped-up voices and what might be the most evil-sounding egg shaker ever.
But the record isn’t necessarily schizophrenic, or it is but only in the deeper way of thwarting expectations. The album seems to take a break towards the end of Track 4, where a simple loop of crude oscillations carries on for several minutes. The effect is less interesting in and of itself—think late-period Boredoms without the percussion—than the tension of not knowing when it’s going to suddenly transform into something else (incidentally, both these albums have few gaps and the break between tracks is typically hard to identify). The relation to schizophrenia is perhaps not that out of place: there’s a certain anonymity at play here with a myriad of voices all horribly mutated and abstracted in a way which sounds distinctly like one person with a lot of issues.
Tomutonttu sounds a lot more like Kemialliset Ystävät, insofar as it seems to carry its own perverse logic, carrying a greater stream-of-consciousness flow in comparison to the relatively abrupt shifts of its predecessor. Sometimes it seems to ride the same groove forever, but unlike Track 4 off Tomutonto, it’s a lot denser with a wider variety of sounds: “Tteema,” despite not having any significant changes, seems to constantly morph as new sounds open themselves up.
The self-titled disc definitely feels like less of a statement, per se, and more of an immersive experience. “Kohtublues” is almost intimate even, a lonely forest song that’s chaotic but simple at the same time. It’s a lot more difficult to talk about these tracks since everything’s a lot more abstract this time around, at least until the animal noises kick in on “Live in EU I,” replacing the generally more human-sounding voices on Tomutonto. Even these two supposedly live tracks sound remarkably composed. Perhaps it’s the slower tempo but they even feel meditative, which is strange given that they’re still chaotic and confusing. “Live in EU II” is the most understated thing on either album, glassy fragments of melody occasionally sticking out amidst a steady drone.
The latter is probably my favourite of the two then, if only because ultimately it’s more adventurous, although the hallucinatory power of the first record is not to be underestimated. To the uninitiated, this might just sound like Kemialliset Ystävät under a different name, but with Tomutonttu Anderzén manages to do what’s difficult with a lot of different musicians playing in the same room, no matter how manipulated those sounds were in post-production. That is, Anderzén has abandoned a lot of identifiable instruments, and in the process, all the associations with folk or conventional genres. Tomutonttu feels a lot more like an exercise in pure sound: hell, even if I did lose a good part of my hearing there would be something gratifying about listening to these records, so effectively do they tap into the basic, physical vibrations of the eardrum.