Key to the creative success of Out of Touch, the newest release from Finnish musician Jaakko Eino Kalevi, is an ephemeral and invaluable element of surprise. The sounds that start a song are often nothing near the ones that dominate it by the end, and the next track rarely offers the expected follow-up. The game is a dangerous one, but Kalevi treads well the line between monotony and wild inconsistency for this latest offering, and, in the end, manages to infuse his dreamy electropop with a range of substantial flavors that keep the album credible even as they allow Kalevi to indulge in constant redirection.
The thin beats that open the album on “China Eddie” are the first to deceive. Soon joined by a keyboard line and Kalevi’s signature near-mumble, they sound lounge-ready until more atmospheric synths sneak into the background. As the keys start to increase in improvisatory complexity and the synths in haunting echoes, sax joins the fray. By the end, a chorus of gospelesque vocal harmonies pushes forward the flurry of keyboard notes until they come to a stop. Those initial beats that tried to make the song sound simple at the start to extend the track a few seconds longer, a cheeky reminder of how quickly Kalevi can grow a piece.
“Emotions in Motion” opens with thicker electronics and Kalevi sounding like a spectral Bowie backing track, his voice vibrating through high and low notes. He sounds, both here and across the entire album, as though there is one translucent layer of sound above him, a fog that passes over his words – almost frustrating, at times, but making moments of sonic clarity feel even more refreshing. “Emotions in Motion” has a few of those, points where the drums get a little sharper, the keys a little brighter, his voice more powerful. In such moments, the startling strength of Kalevi’s abilities as a pop music writer comes through; “Emotions in Motion” is, ultimately, a catchy song shrouded in hazy effects – not always necessary ones, but ones that create a new soundscape, setting Kalevi’s music apart.
On the starlit ballad “Outside”, Kalevi puts the electronics to particularly good use. Dark tranquility gives way to a borderline atonal buzz of electric guitar that heightens the sense of drama in just a few occasional long notes. It leads into “This World”, an uptempo jam that relies on a rock-solid bass line and a heartwarming major key. Flute sounds seem to hint at a serious tone to “Ballad of a Cloud”, quickly subverted by a synthesized slide to the edge of off-key. “Night Chef” stands out as another one of Kalevi’s more solidly simple pop songs, and is perhaps more memorable for that. Perhaps an even greater highlight is “People in the Centre of the City”, just as unambiguous but with more melodic depth. The album ends on the fittingly soothing “Lullaby”.
Out of Touch, at its core, is an enjoyable pop album. Kalevi’s voice and ever-so-slightly off-kilter electronic sensibilities are what make it distinctly his. He takes the easy and warps it into modern art, and while the sounds can get muddy, especially when it comes to his words, there’s something to be said for shying away from the comfort of squeaky-clean sounds. Out of Touch allows for a more luscious aural dive.