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Sistol - On the Bright Side

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Artist: Sistol

Album: On the Bright Side

Label: Phthalo

Review date: Aug. 26, 2010

Sistol was one of the first aliases used by Sasu Ripatti, better known as Vladislav Delay and Luomo. Ripatti records a lot, even by his genres’ standards, and these alter egos make his discography more approachable. In 2009 alone, he released Tummaa as Delay, appeared on Vertical Ascent as part of the Moritz von Oswald Trio, and collaborated with his wife on Symptoms, a techno-pop album credited to AGF/Delay. Between them, these three albums roughly cover Ripatti’s styles, ranging from recognizable dance music to difficult, idiosyncratic ambient.

Ripatti’s latest release, On the Bright Side, is probably the closest he has ever come to a straight-up techno album. The style is an ingredient of most of his releases, but this new album sacrifices some of the brainy, druggy personality a Delay fan expects. This is both a positive and negative thing for someone who, given the unevenness of recent releases, might be getting a little too comfortable with his compartmentalized personalities. There’s a lack of dialog between his personas that makes his moves more predictable than they should be. The puzzling and sporadically beautiful Tummaa is a weaker album than it could be because it feels so isolated from his other modes. Rather than being bound by the rules of his alter ego, his Delay work could use some of the graspable, orienting quality of Luomo’s accessible microhouse.

This new release as Sistol coincides with the re-release of his second LP, originally released in 1999. Sistol comes as a two-CD set that includes the remastered album and a second disc of remixes. The stylistic gap between the earlier album and On the Bright Side states the expected: Basic Channel and Chain Reaction are no longer the dominant influences on techno. The album also indicates that, even in his more accessible guises, Delay’s music can be frustrating because his skill as a sound manipulator can’t always make up for underdeveloped structures. The earlier Sistol album splits the difference between two of Delays’ best-known albums, Vocalcity and Multila, and it marches forward predictably with the former’s slowly morphing rhythms and the latter’s eerie, electro-acoustic treatments. It’s a solid record that putters around in its own attention to detail, like Monolake’s Hongkong, and it sounds very much of its time.

While the last Delay album felt like a series of temporary, improvised structures, captured best by this video of crystals that form and liquidate along with the creepy crawl of Delay’s music, the new Sistol sounds more like bangin’ video-game music. People consider Vladislav Delay records dub because they talk about the relationship between recording actual sounds and creating unreal space from them, but these Sistol tracks balance depth of focus with up-front melodies and easily followed song structures. It has a kind of boldness that is of the moment — rejecting the inertness of minimal for more dynamic rhythms and melodies, tracks that have a narrative feel and aren’t just plateaus of non-events. “(Permission to) Avalanche” is the first song and is not spared from sounding like dumb trance by the weird gurgles backing the main synth riff, but being too obvious is a good kind of weakness from a musician who usually prefers to be cryptic. The album gets stronger as it goes on. The emotive “A Better Shore” counterbalances the easy blast of “Avalanche.” “On the Bright Side” is another headbanger, but “Glowing and So Spread” stops it from being a total loss.

With his new album, it sounds like Ripatti is taking a chance by stepping between the templates he’s created for himself , so the failures on the album at least feel new and reassure us that he’s not too brainy to enjoy fucking up. The classic dub techno sound has been both a tool and a crutch for Delay, whose originality is a fact but is nevertheless a formalist. His austerity moves to the background on On the Bright Side, and while it may come across as less personal, it also reaches out and tries to connect beyond the heads.

By Brandon Bussolini

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