Mika Vainio, In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed is King
Mika Vainio is one-half of the Finnish duo Pan Sonic. Anyone who has read my reviews over the past few years will know that I consider Pan Sonic to be among the finest groups recording today. I'll grant that their music is not for everyone--there are usually some good beats, but their melodies often lean toward the weird, noisy end of the happiness spectrum. Actually, what I find most interesting about the group is the fact that the two members--Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen--are, in some ways, diametrically opposed musically. Väisänen's solo works, like Asuma and his contribution to Raster-Noton's 20' to 2000 collection, are sparse, rhythmic affairs. By comparison, Vainio's solo efforts, like Ydin and Kaja, are darker and creepier works, consisting largely of throbbing sine waves and some nasty feedback loops. Both of these elements appear in Pan Sonic, and it's the struggle between those sparse beats and the overwhelming noise that makes Pan Sonic's music so intriguing.
However, these solo efforts have left me a bit underwhelmed. Many of the works are quite interesting in their own ways, but they are nowhere near as good as the work that both create together as Pan Sonic. I liked Asuma, but it left me a little bored (too much repetition, I think); I appreciated Ydin and Kaja, but the intensity of the feedback noise left me unwilling and unable to bear the works for longer than a few minutes at a time. So when I learned that Mika Vainio had released In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed is King, I didn't expect much.
Well, once again my assumptions proved unfounded. This is a remarkably subtle, intense, and enjoyable listen. There's plenty of terror here--some rather intense explosions of sine waves pushing the ears to their popping point--but there are also many subtle, even beautiful moments spread throughout the disk's 44 minutes. "Kasvien Väri (Colour Of Plants)," for example, starts off with a series of sine waves that warble and sputter around for a few minutes, until joined by a few Vangelis-like synth lines that push their way into the warbling din. These sounds then spend a few more minutes swirling around each other (like a big soup of melodious air conditioner noise) until, all at once, the din disappears, leaving just a delicate, almost peaceful tone that floats around in pitch and intensity (at one point almost silent, at another almost blisteringly loud), until the tone dips and dies, and the song ends. It's a wonderful song, both minimalist (there are only really three or four different notes in the whole thing) and chaotic (those notes cover all areas of the sound spectrum, and vacillate in every directions for minutes at a time). Most of all, it's a wonderful song because the music itself weaves a wonderful spirit of dissonance and creativity, bringing an image of the title, "color of plants," to life in vivid, "colorful" detail.
In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed is King is a work of atmosphere. That's not surprising. Most Pan Sonic works (and most solo works by the members of Pan Sonic) are atmospheric, even cinematic in scope and execution. The great thing about Pan Sonic's music is the duo's amazing ability to concoct so many different feelings and emotions out of such simple, almost elemental musical sources. Vainio's solo efforts are usually just as sparsely composed, but they too often subsumed themselves in dark, depressing landscapes of noise and morbidity. Vainio's latest, however, is different. Yes, it is a work of power; the noise of Vainio's homemade machines is always present. But this time, the noise and the power are not the end product: rather, they are the raw materials, the primordial soup out of which Vainio rips and pulls and molds and shapes nine beautiful, delicate, musical gems.
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