Vladislav Delay: Demo(n) Tracks

On June 1, 2002, Vladislav Delay delivered a towering Luomo performance at MUTEK that argued the charismatic Finn had the goods to transcend his rabid but small electronic fan base for a larger audience—a thin white duke for the new millennium, perhaps. Alone onstage, blinding lights streaming past his lean silhouette, irresistible sensual grooves stirred anticipation for the upcoming sequel to Vocalcity. Sadly, it didn't appear as scheduled and whatever momentum Delay had amassed slowly dissipated. Even worse, Mille Plateaux, the label responsible for two of his major recordings (Entain, Anima), went bankrupt. But Delay soldiered on, with The Present Lover eventually released last year by Kinetic to a solid if not overly ecstatic reception; now comes Demo(n) Tracks issued on Delay's newly revived imprint Huume. Unfortunately, Delay experienced even worse luck when the new album's demo takes were lost to a destroyed computer hard drive (and back-up), forcing him to return to earlier demos from which the album—now titled Demo(n) Tracks in acknowledgement of said demonic computer—eventually emerged.

Sistol, Luomo, Uusitalo, Vapaa Muurari, Luukas Onnekas—has there been another artist with as many (dis)guises as Delay? It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, to find the new album issued under his own name, suggesting that the album is either a return to the stylistic territory of Entain and Multila, or that it's intended as a direct and unguarded expression of the artist. The album does, in fact, revisit the abstract style of those earlier Delay recordings but this time the sound is harsher and more abstract. Unlike the twenty-minute epics of the past, Demo(n) Tracks includes thirteen pieces that largely form one seamless whole although the advent of most tracks is announced by opening salvos of harsh clatter. There's rarely any stabilizing rhythmic anchor, and instead the music meanders and drifts, a fluid beatless reverie of industrial noise. “Otan Osaa” opens the album with a jarring dissonant shatter before relaxing into moody atmospheres besieged by dubby racket and blurry bass tones. Here and elsewhere Delay applies echo treatments to hammered chords, intensifying the percussive dimension of the work. Rendering the work less accessible is its lack of nucleus, a central unifying instrument around which the other instruments might constellate. The tracks are amoebic, their shapes ever-shifting and unresolved, the sound impressionistic and aquatic, with brief moments of calm leavened by clamouring blasts. Occasionally a lurching bass line, curdling beat, or martial snare pattern is heard within the dense murk, imparting some semblance of structure to the piece in question. Only in the last and longest track “Kainuu” is there any concession to conventional structure as gently strummed guitars and a simple beat surface through a hazy fog.

Rather than exploit the attention brought by Vocalcity and The Present Lover, Delay fashions Demo(n) Tracks into a resolutely, even perversely, uncommercial work that will likely alienate Luomo aficionados (if not Entain and Multila fans for that matter). The volcanic cacophony of clatter with which he smothers the lurching bass lines in “Kaijkki Hyvin,” for example, is so extreme it verges on ridiculous. While it's definitely a challenging, even bewildering, ride and likely one too extreme for most, Demo(n) Tracks finds Delay choosing the road less traveled, and thus invites admiration for what it represents, more so perhaps than for how it sounds.

October 2004