Erriapo's icy but intimate techno-chillout is understated, elegant, but never simple.
Unhurried development: the tightrope walk of the electronic musician's art. How many bars can you feasibly expect people to listen to before bringing in a new hook?
Vocalists usually want to get cracking as soon as they can, but with instrumentals, the urge is to let things take their time. Not just within the world of programmed music either – Fleetwood Mac's 'Albatross' is over three minutes of what is, essentially, an intro. Within the dance and electronica heading, chillout is the sub-genre which deals most often in this melodic brinksmanship. A common misconception is that chillout is just slow and simple dance music, whereas the reality is that the trick of engaging a listener's attention without overpowering them is one of the toughest there is.
It takes a very defined musical sensibility to create a track which is intimate without being dull. Overegg the pudding, and you end up with a flaccid house tune that doesn't quite fire up any dancers – take too subtle an approach and the result is the kind of whalesong meditation music that fills racks in shops selling scented candles and dreamcatchers.
How many bars can you feasibly expect people to listen to before bringing in a new hook?
Ukkonen's EP consists of three tracks, each of them placed somewhere in genre between chillout and minimal techno. There is some skillful trickery with time signatures on all three tracks, close enough to 4/4 to be comforting without ever being entirely predictable. In effect, it just means that the next loop or beat doesn't happen exactly when you expect it to, but isn't too far off either. Something that is almost impossible to achieve with a band, but when it does occur, it is almost always in the jazz milieu. And on reading the press release, lo and behold, it turns out that Ukkonen comes 'from a background steeped in classical composition, jazz and art rock'. Fair enough, polyrhythms it is then.
'Thrym' sounds clean and fresh, without being cold or sterile. Descriptors which fit better into toothpaste commercials than record reviews, but that are nevertheless apt when it comes to this jazz-inflected techno. As a genre, techno owes much to rhythm over melody, and makes no attempt to emulate the sound of analogue instruments. Creating an intimate soundscape with that approach is a challenge. 'Thrym' manages to do so with a sparse but significant bassline working on a different time signature to the other elements of the song. The bassline is more of a commentary than a rhythmic driving force, and brings a lucid but louche confidence to the track.
Creating an intimate soundscape with that approach is a challenge.
'Kaksi' also has a vaguely math-rock approach to beats. There is no syncopation to speak of, just equally-weighted high-hat ticks that follow an elusive pattern, a pattern that feels like you might just be able to count out if you concentrate hard enough, but it's nicer just to let it tickle your subconscious with question marks as you get on with following the soft bass and midrange groove. The only jarring aspect of the track is the glassy top-end synth voice, an angular crystalline sound that is cropping up on far too many records at the moment, particularly within the microgenre of Arctic House that this EP almost inhabits. The relaxed and burbling build towards the outro is stylish and understated though – suggesting early 90s Warp releases.
Fleetwood Mac's 'Albatross' is over three minutes of what is, essentially, an intro
The big, seventeen-minute 'Erriapo' is the closest the EP comes to recognisable dancefloor fuel. Again, it's relaxed, the sheer bravado of building the elements of the song at so unhurried a pace is inspiring, but with enough going on to really hook the ear (although the Rhodes-esque funk keyboard figures at the outset really brings Terence Trent D'Arby's 'Dance Little Sister' to mind – which was probably unintentional). It's confident stuff, especially the deceptively simple repeated loop fading in and out of volume throughout. This backbone motif is intriguing. Ten repetitions of the same note, at the same tempo, faded down in volume and half-way through, faded back up. On the ricorso, when it comes back up, there is an additional note played alongside. It's a harmonic trick which gets used a lot by Rhodes-piano players, and gives the impression that the pitch has changed, where in fact, it's the timbre. Effective and intricate stuff, and a perfect example of the kind of depth and detail that this EP displays. Understated, chilled, elegant; but despite first impressions, never simple.