Kemialliset Ystävät’s Ullakkopalo is credited as having been recorded “where the horsefly slumbers.” Its cover depicts hundreds of images, from lettuce to soft-serv ice cream and a snake, strung together in out-of-context, highly confusing fashion. And its liner notes are a juxtaposition of still images with stories about Emperor Ashoka of India, a market analyst and a 72-year-old man who hallucinated and beat his roomate to death. There’s little doubt that Jan Anderzén, the man behind the unpronounceable-to-American-audiences project Kemialliset Ystävät serves to disorient. In fact, he has made disorientation into an aesthetic over numerous albums in the past decade, reaching a sublime level of hallucinatory lightness on Ullakkopalo.
KY’s first album in three years, Ullakkopalo is a network of electronic collages unlike any other. Where some would use layers of electronic samples to build pretty or danceable soundscapes of warm and/or throbbing sound, Anderzén takes a decidedly batty approach, throwing gurgling, squealing and buzzing effects on top of one another, creating a messy and shaky thatched roof of sonic oddities over what are ultimately melodic, even beautiful compositions. This, in turn, has prompted many to classify the Finnish composer as a “noise” artist, due to the discordant and often abrasive nature of the elements he strings together. Yet, Ullakkopalo is not noise. It’s not anything else either, though. One of its Last.fm tags is “Fonal,” the Finnish label that releases Anderzén’s work, along with like-minded avant-gardists as Islaja and Päävoharju, which is good enough evidence that KY, as well as the other artists mentioned, are creating music that exists outside of any known genre.
As truly bizarre as much of Ullakkopalo is, however, it’s very much a captivating and exciting release. It’s also a thing of obscure beauty. Its presentation may initially be off-putting, but with just the slightest bit of patience, its vertigo-inducing layers of buzz and whirr become stunning melodies. First track “Kajastusmuseo” doesn’t make it any easier though; squeaks, drones and strange electronic noises battle each other over a steady plod, slowly reaching forward to make some kind of sense out of each confusing piece. And then-eureka!-the 80-second mark unveils an electric guitar riff that carries the song out on a raft of psychedelic majesty.
The album only grows more warm and inviting, albeit ever slowly, with each new track. “Kivikasan Rauhassa” finds Anderzén ushering in a descending minor key melody from the outset of the track, with distortion obscuring its ghostly, Finnish-sung vocals. The folktronic beauty of “Nitty Veden Alla” recalls a more left-field Tunng in its blend of accessible acoustic sounds and electro textures, while “Maksaruahoja” floats between a buzzing swarm of electronics and an electric-guitar shuffle that could have been pulled from a vintage heavy metal record. And “Ystävälliset Miekat” is a work of exotic wonder, blending Eastern-sounding samples with post-punk guitar a la The Cure.
Out of context, almost nothing about Ullakkopalo makes any sense, from artwork to liner notes, to the hundreds of head-trip samples that erupt throughout its 14 tracks. Funny thing, then, that when the pieces come together, they come to form nothing less than mesmerizing sonic art. It’s disorienting, discordant, and sometimes just outright weird, but extremely rewarding for those that dare attempt to soak in all of its head-spinning magic.
Black Dice – Creature Comforts
Islaja – Ulual Yyy
Excepter – Throne
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.