Sistol: On the Bright Side/ Remasters and Remakes

[3 February 2011]

By Timothy Gabriele

Without going into much detail, Sasu Ripatti (Luomo, Vladislav Delay, Moritz Von Oswald Trio, AGF/Delay, Uusitalo, The Dolls) is a busy man. So, asking his loyal and/or periodically intrigued fanbase to consider another project appears to be more of a favor than a gift. After over 10 years of inactivity, Ripatti has revived his Sistol alias with a brand new full length called On the Bright Side. Since few people probably heard the project on its first go around, Halo Cyan has issued a remastered version of Sistol’s self-titled debut album, along with a special bonus disc of remodelings by 11 electronic peers from various scenes.

The parallel release and reissue schedule suggests that there may be some kind of progressive lineage between the two, but search as one may, you’ll be unlikely to uncover any similarities between the two projects. Sistol, made in 1999, is an extremely gaunt and stripped down creature, sliced almost down to the bone with bare strips of flesh forming minor noise-melodies and micro-electroriffs. It’s hard to even buy this as a remaster as its sound is bargain basement garden variety minimalist glitch. Listening to the album, it’s a strain to believe this is the same producer that would release an album as vibrant and lasting as Vocalcity just one year later. 

Opener “Hajotas” begins with what sounds like it could have been a basic proto-Fruityloops template. As Ripatti begins to add scratchy beats and tinkers with sieved washes of exasperated breath, it becomes apparent that these mixes, far from being finely honed in advance, could have been assembled in real time. The scarcity of effects is the most shocking aspect to these tunes and it makes them seem both rudimentary, a Basic Channel programmed in BASIC, and brittle, so fragile that the tapes almost didn’t even pick their brisk melodies up. Many of the tracks build to something enjoyable, if somewhat dated, but some flounder along with little motivation at all. “Kotka” is probably the best cut in that its reverb allows the track to foreshadow Vladislav Delay’s atmospherics. The intense interjection of the kind of reverb that later defined Ripatti’s sound feels violent amidst the rest of the constricted, almost constipated lot. Most disappointing from this lot is “Luomo”, the track from which Ripatti seems to have adopted his most beloved moniker This lowlight is so barely there that the four-to-the floor stops at points like its arm got tired.

The remixes disc fares only slightly better. Sistol seems the perfect album for remixing. Not only is there plenty of space for improvement or fulfillment on the tracks, but the sonic pieces themselves are restricted and identifiably segregate, making it easier to pluck out fragments and tweak them. While all the artists involved in this project do choose to maximalize the originals, they mostly just wind up sounding like themselves rather than Sistol revamped. This makes for a rather inconsistent listen when consumed in one dose. For instance, reborn New York postpunk trio Ike Yard concoct a metallurgic factory-bred mix of clanging and buzzing on “Nuomo” (Ike Yard’s Metalli Tulitta Remix), but its droning noisescape is proceeded by the choppy metronomic minimalism of Mike Huckaby. Best of the batch are Aki Latvamaki’s “Kaste”, which is warm and fuzzy like early Kompakt techno, the delicate craftsmanship and neon luminescence of Somatic Responses’s “Laserfunk remix”, and Alva Noto’s Office Depot ambient on “Has”, which could have been a cut from his Xeroxx series.

On The Bright Side could be expected to be an updated variation on the debut’s principles of privation, using an updated toolbox and an industrious worksmanship to deliver scaled-back goods to a post-Villalobos world. Instead, Ripatti has made a skronky acid house record. Go figure.

In fact, in juxtaposition to Sistol‘s unadorned and skeletal selections, On the Bright Side takes riff-fueled techno workouts and colors their simple arpeggio loops with decorative mechanical and atonal coutoure. “(Permission to) Avalance” starts off with echoes contoured much like Cabaret Voltaire’s “This is Entertainment” and ensues along this trajectory with the peripheral cacophony monopolizing the ear’s focus until the persistent acid line comes in. At its close, the track begins a trend that will continue throughout the album wherein incessant loop overkill gives way to a sublime change in course during the track’s final minute or two. If nothing else, you stick around while listening to On the Bright Side for the promise of a sweet denouement.

The BPM on “(Permission to) Avalanche” is for the faithful, slower than much of today’s beats, almost sluggish enough to qualify for listening music alone. The disc seems to pay equal reverence to the avant-garde warbles of the hacked 808s in early acid house and the concurrent strands of “intelligent” dance music that began to define Warp’s sound post the acid boom. “Hospital Husband” is Autechre preened on Phuture, merging B-Boy graffiti abstraction with portable club squiggles. Still, the track itself is a bit too energy-depleted to get the blood pumping for fans of either of those scenes.

Title cut “On the Bright Side”, meanwhile, has the riff and the will, but almost cranks up the adjacent ornamentalism too much. This maximalism could almost use some of the debut Sistol release’s austerity. The second half of On the Bright Side is actually the stronger side. “Fucked Up Novelty” is almost nightmarishly rubbery and elastic, a drunk psychedelic trip with a burning fever. The strange concoction eventually gets drippier, swarming into some primal audio soup that’s not unlike Meat Beat Manifesto’s recent Answers Come in Dreams, only with a more centralized techno rhythm engine. “Contaminate Her” is a buzzy swollen bit of delectable darkness that’s as creepy as its title, while “Funseeker” mesmerizes with the opposite sentiment, a glitchy and twinkling spark of uplift to carry the album off into the night.

Sasu Ripatti always has a couple of killer tracks up his sleeve, but the busy man might do well to slow down every now and then and make sure they’re all up to par. He waited 11 years to revive Sistol, so what’s a couple more months at the editing board?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/134833-sistol-on-the-bright-side-remasters-and-remakes/