Finland’s audio surrealist Jan Anderzén returns with his first release under the Kemialliset Ystävät name since 2007. Much like Nurse With Wound, Kemialliset Ystävät offers pictures drawn with sound. These songs are collages relying on an uncommon sense of place and position, laying out instruments and samples in layers that create unexpected conjunctions and generally indescribable constructions.
Ullakkopalo initially sounds like a group of children aimlessly fooling around with a bunch of instruments, but further listening begins to reveal the planning behind the songs — if that’s what you want to call these pieces. For the most part, the track breaks here are arbitrary, and serve more as signposts than dividers. The album constitutes a whole, and things are as likely to change in the middle of a song as they are in between.
Sometimes listening to these pieces can feel like an intellectual exercise, spending the time teasing apart the sonic strands that were so carefully put together. Alternatively, you can simply sit back and let things proceed, withholding judgment and to some extent suspending disbelief. Whether sampled, played live, assembled from tapes, or channeled from the ether, there’s really no telling what the source is as each sound passes by. And it doesn’t really matter. Here a guitar or a bell, there a buzzing noise, a bubbling sound, a quiet murmuring, a crunchy rhythmic snippet, and so on — the array of sounds can begin to feel a bit much. On the other hand, if there’s an overriding quality to the album, it’s a feeling of light-heartedness, like children at play.
The difficulty comes when facing the question of what it all means. There’s really no telling, which may or may not be a problem. On the one hand, Ullakkopalo is a surreal landscape, a combination of a Daffy Duck cartoon and a Salvador Dali painting, translated into sound. On the other hand, it could just as easily be your 4-year-old nephew’s crayon scrawl hung in a nice frame. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, no doubt the same holds for music, and this is the perfect case study. Depending on the attitude with which you approach it, the album can either charm with its polyglot contents or annoy for the very same reason.