As much as I like a great song—the feeling of being caught in another world for several minutes, so breathless that you are forced to listen to it again rather than moving forward into the album—an unstructured, freely flowing LP can be far more enlivening and exhilarating. While never hitting an unequivocal peak like a with an album centered on a showcase single, the best album-oriented artists, particularly those with more minimalist aspirations (e.g., Spacemen 3, Laika, Flying Saucer Attack, Aphex Twin) also never fall into the valleys. Instead, they manage to cast a sound so organic and unified that songs themselves are entirely secondary to the synthesized work.
That has been the case over the course of Pan sonic’s (formerly Panasonic—pesky intellectual properties!) previous four LPs—one with Suicide’s Alan Vega and released under the pseudonym VVV—and remains so with the unconditionally resplendent Aaltopiiri. Like their minimalist forebearers Steve Reich, John Cage, and even Alan Vega, the Finnish duo tiptoes a fine line between making sounds and making music as it is typically recognized. The emphasis is always on the sound itself, each blip and swipe of sound provides its own unique statement. With the focus shifted from messages to aesthetics, Pan sonic have carefully avoided any hints of dullness or falling into the minimalist trap of needing an accompanying installation or visual work to allow the music to succeed. Instead Mika Vainio and Ilpo Vaisanen create noises that are also spaces for contemplation, meditation and absorption in the soundscape.
While remarkable for its holistic nature—tracks blend into one another without the listener perceiving the CD player having moved a track forward—Aaltopiiri is also successful because of its differences, admittedly very subtle at times. Pan sonic creates a mood in which innumerable more moods lie. “Vaihtovirta” is ticking, raw (the entire album is recorded live without overdubs and recorded mainly on analogue) and then piercing before settling into a catchy (really) techno throb and falling back into its terrorizing tick. “Toisallta” follows and provides an icy, grinding transition into silence before the warmer beats of “Johdin” kick in. Soon thereafter, the listener undoubtedly gets captured by the pulse and atmosphere of the record and the next time he or she notes the progress of the album will likely be seven (of 17) tracks in when the pet tormenting, high-pitched squeal of “Arvid” pierces the ear.
And so Aaltopiiri carries on, mixing light and dark, warm and cold; sounds so minimalist that they are on the brink of disappearance and so catchy that a house DJ would be remiss not to sample them. Pan sonic, after their collaboration with Vega and their ensuing LP A and EP B, also seem to have rid themselves of a great deal of abrasiveness (or perhaps they saved it for their forthcoming collaboration with Einstürzende Neubauten’s F.M. Einheit) and replaced it with a murmuring, phasing, lushness that allows the listener to feel transported as far away as… well, Finland.