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Kemialliset Ystävät - Kemialliset Ystävät

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Artist: Kemialliset Ystävät

Album: Kemialliset Ystävät

Label: Fonal

Review date: Jul. 2, 2007

Since 1995, Finland's Jan Anderzen has issued a baffling array of releases under the name Kemialliset Ystävät, from cassettes to 7" singles and 3" CD singles – even a double 8" lathe cut picture disc, of all things. Anderzen's latest release, oddly, is self-titled. Is this his ultimate statement? Did he run out of titles? Who knows.

Puzzlement seems to be a common reaction when people hear Kemialliset Ystävät for the first time. The sounds and instruments are often difficult to identify. Sure, there's sometimes guitar, often bubbling synth, but then there are droning things, a seeming junkyard of percussion tinkling and rattling away, and voices…or are they?

What differentiates the dozen songs on this 42-minute album is what I'll call the degree of randomness. The most successful songs offer enough structure that a listener can feel involved in the proceedings; others simply let sounds fall where they may, applying a sort of audio-Pollock approach. At its best, the album reaches a sort of ecstatic ceremonial peak, while at its worst the results are like a preschool group let loose in a room of musical instruments.

One of the highlights is certainly "Superhimmeli," filled with plucked acoustic strings and muttering voices that break into psyched-out dreamsounds with pounding drums and fuzzed-out guitar. The ornately-named "Kokki, Leipuri…" (I'll leave off there) feels quite ritualistic, with careful string plucking, droning, and obscure percolating sounds; and closer "Himmeli Kutsuu Minua" is a beautiful psychedelic march, a thickly layered piece with ringing percussion, synths, voices and perhaps even horns – as is frequently the case here, it's hard to tell exactly what all's going on. But the results are marvelous.

Many of the other songs, though, simply feel too aimless. It's not precisely a bad thing, but the stronger songs indicate too clearly how good this band can be. The three minutes of "Merkkejä Iholla," for example, are a pleasant enough processing of randomly tinkling percussion, buzzing sitar drone, and chanting voices, and while you're listening, the sounds flow past smoothly. But afterwards it's a challenge to recall what was just heard.

Worse are the few songs that are actually difficult to listen to. "Himmelimenetelmä" is much like being in the midst of a group of children hopped up on sugar, and the blooping, clinking, hooting sounds verge on the annoying. "Valojuopot" is an uneasy mixture of randomly bleeping synths, wailing noises and a babbling, muttering voice. It's likely to be an amusing dada-esque song to some, and irritating soundscape to others.

While unpredictability and playfulness is a large part of what makes Kemialliset Ystävät so interesting, there's a potential here that feels unfulfilled. It wouldn't take much, but if Anderzen can apply just a bit more control, and use his sound-crafting abilities in the service of a more focused vision, something truly great could be the result. In the meantime, there's certainly some gold in these hills, but it may take some excavation.

By Mason Jones

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