Treat this one with care; it's worth it.
The CD of Tasankokaiku, the debut album from Shogun Kunitori, out now on Finnish independent imprint Fonal, has a slip over the case that reads:
AFTER PURCHASE PLEASE REMOVE BAND, FOLD FLAT AND PLACE INSIDE EMPTY POCKET
The message is: treat this one with care; it's worth it.
You couldn't tell from the band's name, but Shogun Kunitoki is a Finnish four-piece, together since 1998, who have only now gotten around to releasing their debut album. Avalanches-style, SK have taken their time to synthesize a completely coherent vision of their synthetic electronic soundscapes. Fonal is home to the psych-folk group Paavoharju, but rather than take that as an indication of genre, it's rather an indication of Shogu Kunitkoi's sophistication: their baroque electronica is complex, challenging, and at times beautiful.
"Montezuma", the first track, sets the tone for the album. A pleasant, arpeggiated synth rhythm patters, building quickly in texture into pulsing, high-pitched tone clusters. A familiar three-vs-two rhythm establishes itself as the track's momentum builds. What is surely appreciated here, and in general across the disc's seven songs, is that while Shogun Kunitoki is certainly interested in experimenting with sounds (witness the shimmering/crunchy static sounds of the song's coda), they let the beat ride itself out, gather momentum and take the listener up in the way the best electronic music does, regardless of its ambition.
The general modus operandi of these tracks is to take a looped synthetic theme -- usually high-pitched with a simple, syncopated melody -- and examine it through expansions of texture and intrusions of added layers of sound. The effect can be one of pulsating, curling brilliance -- neither heavy, nor overly dissonant.
"Tropiikin Kuuma Huuma" starts off like accordion-fueled circus music, taking a plunge off the deep end midway-through into pulsing electro-psych. It reminds me of William Orbit's re-interpretation of Gorecki on his Pieces In A Modern Style CD. Out of all this wash of sound, a fragile melody appears just as the song ends. "Tulevaisuus Miinus Menneisyys = 1" (I love these Finnish names) reverses the formula; from an opening of simple octaves in different meters, creating a background wash of sound, a dirty electronic melody emerges in stark contrast.
A few of the experiments, though certainly interesting, don't hit quite as hard. "Daniel" spins off into space before landing in recognizable instrumental rock territory; with a quirky electronic wobble and a marching beat, not particularly inventive. "1918-1926", with crunchier, thicker sounds and the wail of a siren, vividly recalls Glass' soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi.
As a whole, though, Shogun Kunitoki have created intricate constructions of electronica that produce occasional moments of absolute bliss. By the time "Piste" signals its farewell with the abrupt ring of a triangle, the group has led the listener through a journey filled with light, inter-weaving lines of sound and rhythm. Just as Fonal requests on the sleeve, Tasankokaiku is a record you treat with respectful care: this intricate, delicate music deserves it.