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Mika Vainio - Fe3O4 - Magnetite [Touch - 2012]

Mika Vainio's "Fe3O4 - Magnetite" is an album of patient and measured, though not necessarily quiet, deep listening experiments that continues with many of the same threads explored in the doom metal influenced drone album "Life... It Eats You Up" that came out in 2011.  There are no rhythmic elements or beats that would harken back to his work in Pan Sonic.

As Vainio prefers sharp, lacerating textures and cold, forboding arctic atmospheres with an alien bent, this is not a comfortable or relatable listen.  Rather, "Magnetite" is an unemotional, impartial

description of a molecule.  The packaging does not indicate whether or not this album was made through the sonification of magnetic data, but it easily could have been: the structure of the sound was not dictated by human emotion, rather something more basic and mathematical.

Vibrative metallic swells and distorted digital drones comprise most of the record.  A theme begins to emerge: the very faint (i.e. the periodic beep of a heart monitor or a distant synthetic hum) abruptly contrasted by sudden volume (a fat, crumbling distorted tone or a half-second rush of steam), and then another dissolve into a twinkling liquid abyss, which lingers just long enough to suggest that maybe it could last, before another rude interruption.

Time and time again in this gestural way, Vainio takes advantage of the element of surprise.  He lets each sound play on its own, and speak for itself, then quickly switches it out for another without looking back.  After a while the listener comes to expect it, and the brief 1-2 minute sections start to resemble a detached and dreamlike abstract narrative.  This method of structuring certainly prevent any kind of monotony from creeping in, and Vainio consistently finds new and interesting textures within the stark palette he has chosen.


"Magnetosphere" and "Magnetosome" exist deep within a sleeping remoteness.  "Magnetosphere" commences with unidentified chatter, nearly lost between radio frequency bands.  The latter is the most hollow, inert construction of the record, occupied primarily with lazy tones from high pitched gamelan gongs that have been digitally stretched to still more sluggish pacing.

"Magnetosense" contains chords, nearly traditionally ambient in their consonance, and we near the sentimental drift common of most soundscape musicians, however there is a filtered sheen to these sounds which recalls low bitrate mp3, and removes most of their potential warmth. 

These gentler harmonics are re-absorbed into the inanimate howling breeze of the following "Magnetism", another sound doomed to abrupt attenuation in favor of a chainsaw-like screech.

This song also marks the return of the massively overloaded guitar feedback which permeated the previous record.  The dissonance that ensues has a junkyard, analog feel, and subsequently conjures up memories of old Organum and Merzbow recordings from the late 80's.

The closer "Elvis's TV Room" has a ghoulish air, with the doomiest distortion on the album and rapid, harsh exhalations of breath enough to convince the listener they are not alone.  The psychic energy of this is recording is dense and intrusive.  The album ends with a very high frequency sin wave that grows to unbearable volume before cutting out at the exact moment the CD stops, another powerful gesture.

Conclusively, this album is an improvement from the previous, a cornucopia of interesting sounds that successfully blends noise, field recordings, ambience and drone.  The doom metal influence doesn't feel forced as it was on "Life...  It Eats You Up", and the cut up structure of the compositions lends the album listenability and interpretability.  Vainio's world is dark and unforgiving as ever, but that niche of listeners who appreciates both distortion and subtley of sonic texture sake will get a lot out of this record.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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