Mika Vainio: Kilo (Blast First Petite)
When I first heard Mika Vainio’s first solo album Onko in 1997, Pan Sonic was new to me (and still known as Panasonic before the company of the same name’s unfortunate cease and desist), it was inspiring and alienating all at once. Vainio was pushing into the outer limits of minimalism and severe sound, with long stretches of Onko that were barely there at all. Since Pan Sonic’s hiatus (which only recently ended with the surfacing of their recent Oksastus live document), Vainio has been exploring different sounds using the guitar as a primary focus. Such a dirge-like aesthetic pushed his Life (…It Eats You Up) album into something closer to SunnO)))) material than the purely electronic sounds of his previous work, and while I applaud his decision to branch out, it’s not my favorite of his music. Kilo, his latest, falls somewhere in the middle of all of that, reconciling his earliest days as part of a beatmaking trio (on Pan Sonic’s much more techno-influenced debut, Vakio) and a dirge composer. It’s that embracing of his various styles and sounds that makes Kilo probably my favorite of all of his solo works to date.
“Cargo” starts things off with a spacious, patient, post-industrial beat and a swollen drone. It sets the tone well, because many tracks on Kilo share the same slightly sinister, spacious pulse that can be heard on Pan Sonic’s most minimal outing, A. “Load” is carried by a kick-blip combo that is patient while a flanged, chorused-out buzzing synth grinds away. It has the same vibe of Vainio’s more obvious guitar tracks but the more synthesized sounds feel more at home here. It’s a standout in an otherwise relatively even batch of tracks. “Rust” is nicely textural and gutteral, chugging like a can opener and sounding like vintage NON. I like that instead of shifting toward yet more of a rock focus, Vainio has instead dived deep into the dark dirges of drone-metal in spirit rather than actual sounds, and as a result many of the tracks on Kilo exude that same bleakness while remaining focused on electronic sounds and timbre. “Wreck,” for instance, plods with samples that approximate a rock kit, but the added wall of reverb puts it in a far-off room while a swirl of drones and feedback lends it some added gravity. It’s like a hammering metal dirge rendered chairoscuro.
As it proceeds, though, Kilo reveals some of Vainio’s old tricks, like the contrast of chugging sounds and high frequency pulses on “Scale,” one of my personal favorites. That may be because “Scale” is one of the only pieces on Kilo that noticeably strays from the droning and more patient pacing that persists otherwise. It’s the more raucous, machine-gun complement to “Cranes,” the album’s second track, which sounds like a more aggressive, fast drum pattern that’s been slowed down, much like some of the sounds coming out in recent past from Andy Stott and some of the Modern Love camp. It all closes out with “Weight,” an apocalyptic, massive drone that reminds us that Vainio can still move his listeners without the need for any rhythm whatsoever. It also fits his concept well here, playing off the notion of weight rather than weightlessness (which can be a convenient cliche for beatless music, in my opinion). Instead of floating away with a sense of liberation, “Weight” pulls us down even further into the darkness and holds us there. It can sometimes be easy to dismiss some of Vainio’s aesthetic after being familiar with his work for so long now, mainly because the initial impact of just how unique and different his music is (and that of his associates from Pan Sonic). So perhaps it’s best to not evaluate the merits of Kilo on how new it sounds, or how different, but rather as precisely what it is: a tightly crafted, excellent convergence of all of the various sounds and styles Vainio has been exploring over the last 15 years.