he English-speaking world can’t quite figure out whether Kemialliset Ystävät is a proper band or the brainchild of a single man. Dodgy video clips show a group of crouching figures obscured by lit candles on a Spanish floor, but written statements center around Jan Anderzén, a Fonal co-conspirator and definite sole member of Tomutonttu. The album boasts a longhouse full of players, but Wikipedia further muddies the picture, relegating them to the background. The frightening opacity of Finnish doesn’t help much either, battering us poor Indo-Europeans with blasts of Ugric doubled consonants, vowels, and endless diacritics.
The answer—true to the gleeful, pranksterish nature of KY—is neither. The whole enterprise is more of an art concept than a music group, and standard rules of membership are the least of the musical conventions flaunted by Kemialliset Ystävät. The question is more symbolic than real, as it points to a common confusion KY produces in listeners. Is this done on purpose, or is it an off-the-cuff product of an entirely-too-high crowd of strangers? The group’s music bristles with unhinged alien energy, breeding monstrous hybrids that would be born sterile in most settings. Gamelan and Nintendo soundtracks? Abstract sound poetry and acoustic folk? Tape loops and hand drums? Hell yeah, and on the same track to boot.
But there’s more to this than the latest Sunburned session run amok. There’s a strange order, a deliberation, a dawning sense that every element is placed as it is for an irrational reason. Therein lies the greatness of the band: its painstaking intricacy sums to dada spontaneity. This musical paradox creates a compelling game for the listener: try to deduce the illogic beneath the music, peel back the layers searching for a foundation (if there is one), discover the rule that is the exception to itself.
Luckily, this KY album is a bit more accessible to listeners than most, featuring even a few straight-up songs. “Nakymattoman Hipasiour” teams a fuzzy piano line with swallowed microphone mathematics and nervous electro-squeaks for a swaying, shanty-like bounce. “Superhimmel” pits loping guitar lines over a martial bass beat before bridging into a spastic neon breakdown that sounds like Dan Deacon minus the annoying shit. Both tracks show the exhilarating straight path that Kemialliset Ystävät can follow. And both tracks are exceptions, tips of the hat to structures they usually avoid.
More often, KY wobbles around its pet sounds, creating tracks from planned chaotic collisions. Melodies and rhythms flow and communicate, but the crowd of sound prevents any set from locking to song. A push from one is met by a push in the opposite direction by another. The effect is one of dynamic unity, of a bustling conversation within a bubble, about nothing and everything.
We speak often of an artists’ vision, as if musicians present the audience an image that one can mentally trace back through an aesthetic lens to an ideal representation in that artist’s head, an index of influences, inputs, and insights. The clearer and sharper this vision, the better. But in this case, Anderzén’s vision arrives at the end of a kaleidoscope, and its geometric precision only adds to the beautiful confusion.
Reviewed by: Bryan Berge
Reviewed on: 2007-07-09