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Vladislav Delay, "Rakka"

cover imageFor the most part, I can always be relied upon to enthusiastically support any talented artist who leaves their comfort zone behind to explore increasingly weird and uncharted territory. I do have my weaknesses, however, and one of the major ones is my undying love for classic Mille Plateaux/Chain Reaction-style dub techno. Consequently, I am hopelessly fixated on early Vladislav Delay albums like Entain and the newly reissued Multila. That is a damn shame, as Sasu Ripatti has made quite a lot of wonderful and forward-thinking music since and I have definitely not dug into his later work nearly as much as I should. This latest album, the first new Vladislav full-length in roughly five years, is a particularly effective and timely reminder that I am an absolute chump for sleeping on many of Ripatti's major statements over the years. Rakka is quite an ambitiously intense and inventive affair, seamlessly blurring together elements of Tim Hecker-style blown-out ambiance, power electronics, techno deconstruction, and production mastery into an explosive tour de force.

Cosmo Rhythmatic

Given the number of varying guises that Sasu Ripatti has recorded under over the years, it is hopeless to try to define his aesthetic with any degree of accuracy.Hell, even this one project has undergone a constant and significant series of evolutions since it first began.That said, I still feel fairly comfortable in stating that Rakka is quite unlike anything that Ripatti has recorded previously.Much like some of Richard Skelton's stronger works, Rakka's creative leap forward was triggered by an unusual and unmusical inspiration, as Ripatti's muse was essentially the arctic tundra.He spent some time in the wilderness there and was understandably struck by the elemental power and brutality of the environment.In an abstract sense, Rakka is his attempt to replicate that experience to some degree.Obviously, pure sound has its limitations, so Ripatti's live sets are enhanced by an intense visual component crafted by his wife (Antye Greie-Ripatti/AGF), yet the album nevertheless feels quite heavy and fully formed on its own.In fact, it feels a hell of a lot like a rave being ripped apart by a howling blizzard.

Unsurprisingly, very little survives from that imaginary rave in recognizable form, but the deconstructed fragments of beats and chords still seem to form the album's backbone, albeit in ephemeral, corroded, and stuttering form.The title piece is an especially strong example of that aesthetic, as a pulsing chord struggles to be heard beneath a cacophony of skittering, distorted drums and a churning host of other strangled and static-ravaged sounds.All of the individual components of techno are present, yet they exist in a radically reworked context that sounds nothing like techno.Instead, it feels like a roiling, intense, and impressively hostile miasma of colliding sounds.  

While Ripatti’s stated intention was to strip away the "meaninglessness of hooks and melodies" and subvert conventional rhythms, he proves himself to be remarkably skilled and inventive in imbuing each of Rakka's seven pieces with its own distinctive character.Naturally, raw power does a lot of the heavy lifting that beats and hooks might have done, but there are still enough buried traces of songcraft to transcend anything resembling a noise album.Instead, Rakka is more like a series of meticulously crafted song fragments undergoing violent paroxysms.

I suppose roughly half of the album can be said to resemble variations of the title piece, though the variations are significant ones. For example, "Raataja" mingles its seething, pulsing drones with spasmodic eruptions of jackhammering kick drums, while "Raajat" resembles a steadily intensifying and enveloping roar disrupted by rhythmic loops of heavy machinery. Elsewhere, "Rakkine" ventures quite close to straight-up power electronics, as a half-pummeling/half-stammering rhythm is ravaged by bursts of extremely distorted vocals and harsh noise.Some of the other detours, like the more ambient "Raakile" and the near-blast beat crescendo of "Rampa" work a bit less well as individual pieces, but prove themselves to be very effective elements in enhancing the album's overall dynamic arc.Notably, the album’s finest piece, "Rasite," comes at the end of that arc, calling to mind a vintage Tim Hecker or Fennesz gem that has been enhanced with submerged dub-style sub bass, then completely decimated by strafing machine gun fire, an earthquake, and a volcano.   

If there is a caveat with Rakka, it is only that it falls more squarely on the "art" side of the "art versus entertainment" spectrum than most (or all) of Ripatti’s previous releases: it is not so much a fresh batch of songs as it is a sustained and intense experience.That is just fine by me, however, as Rakka is every bit as tightly edited and exactingly produced as the more accessible Vladislav Delay fare.In fact, I am legitimately amazed at how masterfully Ripatti was able to balance brute force and exquisite craftsmanship with this release, even while most nuance and subtlety is unavoidably eclipsed by its gales of noise and punishing flurries of percussion.Ripatti has always been a forward-thinking artist that played a significant role in shaping the direction of electronic music, but this album twists and breaks the form to such a degree that it will be quite a tall order for anyone else to follow him down this path.In fact, it is kind of a radical inversion of Ren Schofield's relentless and punishing Container project: Schofield is a noise artist who has made violence danceable, while Ripatti is a techno artist who has driven dance music completely off its rails, yet still somehow remains in total control of where that flaming and screeching metaphorical trainwreck is headed.

Samples can be found here.