It seems like Kuopio is made up of two distinct halves with two thematically different sets of tracks jammed together to make an album. The first half sounds like a stab at recreating the grinding, mechanical texture of everyday life. The second half is still mechanical, sure, but there’s something subtly funky about it too. If this is true, then Kuopio belongs to an earlier age, when records had, er, sides. Remember when our concept of what a record is was inescapably tied to it having a physical form, when it was unthinkable for it to be any other way? Kuopio either recreates this, posing a challenge to our increasingly fluid forms of cultural consumption, or, well, it doesn’t, and it would be silly to suggest so because this would give unnecessary conceptual strength to something that would once have just been plain normal.
Either way, Kuopio’s fatal flaw is its inconsistency. This is entirely self-inflicted: It’s just structurally very unstable, which is why one might confuse it for being the album’s thematic core. It doesn’t have much else. Each track is based on a single, endlessly repeated, principle. We start off with a brooding, bobbling bass sequence or the digitised fuzz of synthesisers. Then we get several layers of mechanical percussion. The loops scurry over each other before one element overtakes another and it all collapses, as if the machines of a sterile factory have been left to their own devices without having anything to put together.
The first set of tracks (“Vastaa” through “Kellute”) are grinding and robotic, but they’re not quite abrasive enough to capture the sinister power of new technology. The second set (“Osottava” through “Hitto”) do the same thing, replacing the toil with something a bit bouncier, but they’re not funky enough to soundtrack our travels in augmented reality. It certainly isn’t a multiple-hour trance set – so we shouldn’t expect to be “taken on a journey” – but it is clear that Kuopio would work better as two thematically consistent EPs rather than as an album in itself.
In the context of Kuopio, though, the funkier second half becomes the hangover of the grave abstractions of the first half. The drums on “Hitto” are highly automated triples, which echoes the perfunctory drive of “Vastaa” and “Avanne”. However, where the bass throb on “Vastaa” is held in place by a thin kick drum, which moves the whole thing forward, “Avanne” chugs and puffs in a way that is almost as worn out as the use of rail travel motifs to describe electronic music. The second half of “Kulkee”, meanwhile, is pierced with some sort of warped cowbell. It’s like a clunky, severely slowed down samba, with a wobbly bass and a woopy bleepy sound, while the crumbling beat whacks itself out of joint. Album closer “Kuuluuko”, is an anomaly. It sounds out of place in the second half. Its sombre synth padding makes it sound like it would be more at home in the first half. It sums up Kuopio’s whole problem. It’s perfectly good – there isn’t actually anything particularly bad or boring about it – it’s just fractured without being bloody-mindedly avant-garde and it’s bleak without being exciting about it. It’s just headphone candy for nerds.
// Notes from the Road
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