Review Summary: The chords beckon, you follow, and you're down the rabbit hole.
Vocalcity spends exactly none of its 76 minutes setting up. It gets to the punch, laying its basic elements out bare in front of the listener as soon as the first track begins. A ghostly vocal sample echoes in the distance; the bass tugs at the music; the kick is already crawling towards oblivion. Most striking are the chords, some of the juiciest and most rubbery in all of house. They beckon into the void, you follow, and you're down the rabbit hole.
Despite billing itself as a "the next episode in house," Vocalcity is not the work of a veteran or connoisseur but a mild-mannered, fishing-loving Finn named Sasu Ripatti with a background in jazz drumming and a few abstract ambient albums under his name (also worth checking out). When listening to Ripatti's early work under the Vladislav Delay moniker, it's easy to see how his music might mutate into his early Luomo work. Vocalcity sounds like a shining ore dug from the primordial bedrock of his Delay records; it's made of the same stuff, but it's been whittled down to the purest product.
Accordingly, it's far more focused on sound than functionality. None of these songs would have a hard time moving people, but Vocalcity's plushy production sounds best through headphones. Everything either bubbles up under the bass or cuts through it, creating a cloudy, faintly nostalgic atmosphere that almost prefigures chillwave. There's none of the austerity traditionally associated with minimal techno, and its machines never sound malevolent even as they threaten to malfunction.
For all the influence it might have had on ensuing house producers, Vocalcity's strongest suit is its listenability. There's almost no dissonance, and the only sounds that might be considered "ugly" come during the haunting ambient stretch that connects "The Right Wing" and "Tessio." The latter's verse-chorus interplay suggests pop is on Ripatti's mind as much as anything, and in that context, the other songs start to feel like pop tunes. Could Ripatti also be setting up a crude verse-chorus structure on "Market?" These are the questions that come to mind on a record with such an obscure tangle of influences.
But if these are pop tunes, they're more titanic than just about anything to fit that description. All of these songs stretch past the ten-minute mark except the closing "She-Center" (9:56). This might make the album seem formidable to an outsider, but Vocalcity is ultimately a gentle giant. These songs remind me of blue whales, serene and peaceful but nonetheless vast enough to be inherently intimidating.
Ripatti plays games with the track lengths here. Opener "Market" is the second-shortest here, but it's the one that covers the most ground in its running time. "Class" is slightly longer. "Synkro" just skirts 14 minutes; it's the weakest song here, and its primary purpose seems to be to bring the album closer to the depths of the 16-minute abyss "The Right Wing." The brevity of the last two tracks makes the album seem shorter than it is, particularly given how lighthearted an ending "She-Center" is. It's an outlier, functioning as nothing more or less than a stylistic exercise rather than as part of the album's larger narrative arc.
This isn't a concept album, nor is it a song cycle, but it's an epic. A lesser producer would open with "She-Center"--it's something of a Platonic ideal of a Vocalcity track, and it would be a great and digestible way to introduce a newcomer to Luomo's aesthetic. Instead, Delay drops us right into the heart of the action, leading us on a long and winding journey out of it and back to the surface. Starting Vocalcity can feel like falling into a rabbit hole. But once you've endured the shock of the fall, it's a slow, pleasant drift back down to the ground.