Sistol: On The Bright Side (Halo Cyan)
The first time Sasu Ripatti made an appearance under the Sistol alias, it was in the late 90s during the advent of Mille Plateaux’s forward-thinking “clicks_+_cuts” series. He put out a self-titled album on tiny experimental electronic label Phthalo that pushed into the outermost limits of minimal techno with almost entirely non-melodic tracks full of unexpected skips and hiccups, just enough to render them almost useless for a dancefloor (mixing some of them, despite the illusion of a 4/4 kick, is nearly impossible). This was around the same time that Ripatti was most active as Vladislav Delay and also the same era that he introduced the public to his deep house project Luomo and tech house moniker Uusitalo, among others. His profile has lessened slightly in the 10 years since, but he’s remained quite busy between Luomo, Uusitalo, Vladislav Delay and collaborations with the Moritz Von Oswald Trio. It was a surprise then to see the Sistol project revived and revitalized. On The Bright Side is so radically different from his self-titled debut that it’s curious that he even used the same name to release this music. In this case, different is good! I love the austere late 90s Sistol, but the last thing anyone was clamoring for in 2010 was another hour+ of obtuse minimal anti-techno. Instead, the Sistol we discover anew here is full of ideas, with an assortment of bold, fully formed tracks that cleverly seem to sidestep practically any and all trends for current dance music. This is likely not going to date itself any time soon as a result; it’s not that the tracks are so forward-thinking that we have yet to catch up (if anything, that was something his debut excelled at), but they also don’t rely on current cliches or pastiche. Sometimes the sounds are distinctly Ripatti (as if this could be anyone but), such as the persistent chords of the title cut. I like that he seems willing to forgo the obtusity of some of his further-reaching material with a healthy balance of references to techno (in all its myriad incarnations from the last 20 years) and his knack for crystal clear production. Even when these tracks feel like they’re about to burst with details, every nuance is impeccably placed and designed, even when elements feel spontaneous or improvised. The tracklist manages to work well in sequence, with the patient stride of “A Better Shore” resting comfortably in the center of the album and the busier cuts like “Hospital Husband” and “Contaminate Her” falling outside — I love the staggered claps of the latter… funny how such a little thing can be remarkable to one’s ears. If you listen closely, you’ll hear the kick drum mutating over the course of the track, going from more muted to highly punchy and back, a clever and subtle shift that adds to the heft of Ripatti’s production. “A Fucked-Up Novelty” lives up to its name (even if a bit sarcastic) with manipulated vocal samples, flanged snares and scattered synth delays, recalling perhaps the less hook-based moments of contemporary Isolée (sans house leanings) until it starts sputtering and squawking like David Tudor on Dance Fever. “Funseeker” provides a nice comedown as the closer, though, with a neat and tidy bassline. It’s refreshing to hear Ripatti still turning out clever and new music, even if his profile has slightly diminished from view in the more mainstream picture. I don’t imagine that any of his fans were anticipating a return from Sistol, but I’m certainly glad he did it. It sounds virtually nothing like his debut, but he’s always been capable of far greater things, and this album is evidence to support it.