It starts with a drone. A constant note, underpinning the irregular judder and shudder of drums, and the fizz of unexpected electrical sounds. It takes almost three minutes before the piano notes start to come together, before a fragment of a melody appears. It takes almost ten minutes before -Melankolia’, the opening track on Tummaa, starts to make any sense. But even then, it’s just -sense’ in that you’re becoming accustomed to the ambient sounds, letting them flow into your ears without expecting them to create an unwavering melody.
Let’s put things into context: the man behind Vladislav Delay is the Finnish composer Sasu Ripatti. On this, his first full-length under the VD moniker since his 2007 album Whistleblower (he’s a member of the Moritz von Oswald Trio as well as recording under a number of pseudonyms), he’s joined by Scottish composer and arranger Craig Armstrong, who plays piano and Rhodes, and Argentine musician Lucio Capece, who plays bass clarinet and soprano saxophone. It’s a new departure for Vladislav Delay – there are less of the electronic elements heard on his previous releases; instead, he’s gone for a more acoustic approach. But, true to form, it’s not really a conventional approach at all.
Instead, Tummaa betrays Ripatti’s jazz influences – he’s taken that genre’s improvised feel-your-way-around-the-music approach, one that is at its peak on -Melankolia’. There’s a hint of the industrial on it too – metal clashing with earth, starkly, above the gentler acoustic sounds. The second track,’Kuula’, ups the drone factor, reminding the listener of Stars of the Lid or Windy and Carl, but with added spooky layers and lots of rumbling and clinking in the background.
Listening to Tummaa is like being immersed in an underwater dreamworld. Objects fly past, and you try to grasp them, but they slip through your fingers. There is a constant layer of sound – perhaps it’s the water filling your eardrums – and over that is where the action takes place. Sometimes things all happen at once; other times it’s a clink or clank of a strange creature swimming around that grabs your attention. It’s no surprise to find that the word -tummaa’ means -dark’, or -darkness’, in Ripatti’s native tongue.
At times you’re not quite sure what it is you’re actually hearing, like on -Toive’, where the drums could well be the marching of a sinister rescuing party. But you let yourself get immersed in it, because it carries you away, on a journey where you’re not sure where the hell you’re going – or if you even want to be there – but that you can’t help but succumb to nonetheless.