Uusitalo: Tulenkantaja

Is there another electronic artist whose output has been as maddening as Vladislav Delay's? After inciting mini-revolutions in multiple genres with classics like Multila and Vocalcity, Delay (aka Luomo, Uusitalo, et al.) issued the almost unlistenable Demo(n) Tracks and then recovered with a string of better though still imperfect releases, including the AGF/Delay disc Explode, The Dolls, his trio project with Antye Greie-Fuchs and Craig Armstrong, and last year's underwhelming The Four Quarters. Before hitting 'play,' one wonders, then, whether Tulenkantaja, issued under his Uusitalo guise and named after a radical 1940s Finnish literary group, will constitute a return to his earlier form or end up being one more middling release to add to the discography.

Certainly the opener “Paskaa Musaa” bodes well, the sound animated, propulsive, and free of lugubriousness, somewhat like Luomo sans vocals (never more so than during the soulful “Misut Irti / Huutaa”); here and elsewhere, Delay's signature noises surface without arresting the material's electro-techno flow. One soon discovers that the other nine instrumentals orient themselves in like manner around nuclei of propulsive beats and driving bass patterns; in every case said elements anchor the song, allowing Delay to range more freely in the constellating sound design. The loping bass line in “Kalajuttuja,” for example, helps define the song's jaunty pulse while dubby swirls of noise echo and billow around it. Elsewhere, “Lumimies” alternates between a warm electro pulse and a stop-motion mechano jerk while driving electro-funk grooves and clattering dub-funk rhythms propel “Uutta Verta Hangella” and “Nokkonen Päiväunilla.” Never before has Delay sounded as focused and direct as he does in the urgent tech-house cut “Tervatahroja.”

It's a provocative release, both aurally and visually. On the one hand, its presentation affords an intimate glimpse into Delay's world (the booklet's austere photos depict a barren and wintry Finland alongside literary excerpts from his family's work) yet it's distancing too, in that its foreign text and song titles will be all but unreadable to those not versed in his native tongue. Musically, though, Tulenkantaja is, by Delay standards at least, straightforward and arguably his strongest release in ages. In some ways it's an ideal Lumo-Delay fusion: its propulsive core establishes its accessibility while its wealth of abstract textures ensures it retains Delay's distinctive signature.

May 2006