Uusitalo: Karhunainen

Some background details first: Karhunainen (Bear Woman) takes its name from a theatre play by Sasu Ripatti's late father, eight of the album's ten pieces are supposedly “dedicated to the infamous bass drum,” and Ripatti used analog equipment only to create the material. Background info aside, what does Karhunainen sound like? To begin with, it isn't Vocalcity. Ripatti's Uusitalo and Luomo styles fundamentally differ: the two might be characterized as instrumental tech-house club music and sensuous, vocal-based house, respectively. Even so, though the Uusitalo material presents itself as dance tracks forcefully animated by pumping bass drums and rubbery bass lines, quickly enough layers peel away, exposing Ripatti's customary idiosyncratic fingerprint in the process. One might describe Karhunainen as Vladislav Delay tracks masquerading as dance tracks and, as such, a fascinating juxtaposition of straightforward groove elements and intricate sound design persists throughout. Ripatti drenches, for example, the clubby house strut “Tohtori Kuka” (Doctor Who) in trademark Delay flourishes of careening clatter and thrum. Similarly, while a surging shuffle rhythm anchors “Sikojen Juhla” (Feast of Pigs), it's constantly battered by a meteor shower of noise, and ends up sounding as if Ripatti has let two separate tracks collide with one another. In almost every case, a basic dance pulse (the slippery tech-house funk of “Konevitsa,” effervescent house pulse of “Satumaa,” and the title track's furious uptempo swing) is merged with a perpetually mutating field of percussive noise and voice fragments (the two exceptions are the prototypical Delay-styled overture “Vesi Virtaa Veri,” which omits beats and instead pairs its brooding synth lines with field samples of traffic and voices, and the similarly beatless outro “Puut Juuriltaan”). Does Karhunainen deserve a spot alongside Vocalcity, The Present Lover, Entain, or Multila in the upper tier of Ripatti releases? While it's nowhere near as arresting as any of those four, it's certainly a credible enough addition to his discography and an often fascinating, even occasionally re-configuring, collection.

January 2008