t might be time to just call Sasu Ripatti an iconoclast and be done with it. Granted, it would give him a little more leeway for his semi-antagonistic relationship with fans of Luomo—an uneasy relationship most likely rooted in Ripatti’s distaste for his much-loved debut, Vocalcity. It would also explain his tour in the US last year, when he alternated guises from date to date between the Todd Edwards-screwed-and-chopped pop sheen of Luomo and clicked-and-cut dub expanses of Vladislav Delay. Multiple aliases aren’t exactly rare in the electronic world, but Ripatti earned his iconoclast stripes by making his pop project, in many respects, more challenging. And while “challenging” is a dirty word when it comes to electronic music—one that practically describes the flexibility of an artist in the act of auto-fellatio—Paper Tigers turns the adjective on its head. Past the mysterious ripples of Vocalcity and the brittle surface of The Present Lover, with Paper Tigers Ripatti has released his closest approximation yet of coffee table dance-pop and that fact alone makes it the most bizarrely confounding.
And, still, the question remains: was the transformation into the kitchedelic worthwhile, especially now that we’ve reached Paper Tigers? If Vocalcity bridged the minimal with the maximal and The Present Lover found new expressions in its cold contortions to the whims of a facsimile coffee table genre, then Paper Tigers has done away with all interpretation. Luomo throws together moments of jazz, R&B;, and pop to diminished ends. The lush-blanket sonics that defined Luomo are now worn into punctured holes, leaving songs like the title track with a long-line of implied depth and skittering-out rhythm. Luomo’s past slavery to propulsion now falls prey to momentary whimsy—“Wanna Tell” implodes into a lulled stutter after the song’s involving build.
These transformations sound less like complete lapses of judgment after the album is given enough time to breathe—and that might be the most deceiving part of a project created for Ripatti “to satisfy his pop teeth.” Paper Tigers has none of the instant gratification that is expected of pop. Save for the lead single, “Really Don’t Mind,” there are few moments that don’t require serious long-term attention to appreciate. And even “Really Don’t Mind” pales on an insta-pleasure scale compared to its own radio-edit.
But eventually, the tambourine schaffel outlives the subgenre’s expiration date on “Let You Know” and the vocal tapestry of “Good to Be With” overcomes its banal lyrical sentiment. Even the initial fizzle of the instrumental “Cowgirls” gains weight with each listen, accumulating enough momentum to radiate warmth from the burn-out. The coos and sighs of singers Johanna Iivanainen and Antye Greie are solid throughout. Their range is best heard on “The Tease Is Over,” where the vocals begin with a finely controlled cadence, only to be later stretched into the abyss.
But despite the album’s strengths in production and performance, there’s a nagging sense that Paper Tigers doesn’t really amount to much. Where earlier albums could seduce listeners to rethink what house and the various strains of the genre mean to them, Paper Tigers instead sounds too often like a kiss-off. The album asks for patience and trust, and it rewards us far too rarely for it. While that’s a leniency readily granted an iconoclast, Paper Tigers might be a challenge better spent elsewhere.