There's this incredible cover image from the February 2008 issue of UK music mag The Wire that has Sasu Ripatti, seated delicately on a white cushion, sipping tea in his ultra modern white-everything home studio space with a wall of vintage gear tastefully cabinet-mounted in the background. The headline of the enclosed Sherburne profile asks "What makes today's techno so different, so appealing?"
That sort of sums it up for me right there: Ripatti, man of many monikers and styles, swathed in stylish austerity and reserve, sitting on his spotless bed, having a black tea on his little break between composing tunes that are just so damned different and so undeniably appealing. I'm probably unable push off to a critical distance here. The Present Lover is the reason I, as a little grommet, wanted to write about electronic music in the first place. I think "Lumimies" off Tulenkantaja is among the finest recordings of anything, ever. There are so many moments in the Ripatti's catalog that startle, that educate, that prick up gooseflesh on my skin out of sheer tympanic gratitude.
And I am happy to say On the Bright Side, Ripatti's return to his long-forgotten Sistol nom de gear, does not disappoint. Opener "(Permission to) Avalanche" is a bit like how a Luomo track might sound, stripped of vox and echo, and left to twitch and mature like a grub in a chrysalis. It starts with an undeniable two-note bassline married to a primum movens drum pulse. He lets the thing cook for about five minutes and then out bursts a full-grown progressive house moth in its last minute.
There's a bit of a dry spell in the next two tracks, "Hospital Husband" and "On the Bright Side" which are muscular, if groove-less analog gear workouts in a rough Richard D. James vein. But we find Sistol was just limbering up for "A Better Shore," a helicopter ride over a gray, frozen coastline. It's how I imagine Ripatti and AGF's island hideaway on Hailuoto. Hitting a smoky "Talk in a Danger"-esque groove early, " Glowing and So Spread" reveals its sinister side about a third of the way through, dissolving into pitch-wobbling synths and Hitchcock string stabs.
"Fucked-Up Novelty," the only incidence of an identifiable human vocal on the disc, has a huffing little drum loop and a rubbery bass figurine in the background and sort of seems like it's ready to break into melody and then falls back, like nucleotides that never quite coalesce into DNA. Ur-disco ritual "Contaminate Her" and seltzer-fizzing "Funseeker" are IDM workmanship tutorials, like those PBS bits where they used to show little kids the factory where the everyday items like yellow crayons were made. Cue Mr. Rogers asking, "Can you imagine what this machine is for?"
Ripatti has an uncanny ear for flattening a snare to the dry rattle of mouse bones in a matchbox and to thicken a kick to the solid thump of a 20-pound medicine ball on a cinderblock wall. I'm talking about textures. Drum aromas. Patterns within patterns. Compression and gating to make angels weep. The good shit. Maybe only Autechre shares his degree of molecular diligence. And Sistol alone still has the audacity to paint pop music on top of such a Sistine Chapel of beats.
Is this my favorite Sasu Ripatti record? No. I like him at his most elemental and cavernous. This is an experimental and flatter-sound cut. (When everyone's deep house zigging, Sistol tech house zags.) But like 2009's Vladislav Delay LP, Tummaa, On the Bright Side continues to pay out new and surprising dividends with each successive listen.
Tracklist: Sistol - On the Bright Side01. (Permission to) Avalanche
02. Hospital Husband
03. On the Bright Side
04. A Better Shore
05. Fucked-Up Novelty
06. Contaminate Her
07. Glowing and so Spread
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