An interesting opportunity to examine the early sparks of a talent that would soon explode.
Vladislav Delay has shown Sistol, originally released in 1999, more love than any other release from his back catalog. For its 20th anniversary, Sistol 1999 marks its second re-release, after a 2010 deluxe edition that included a whole disc of new remixes. But other than as a two-decade milestone, the occasion for celebration is uncertain. This is an odd album on which to lavish such treatment, as it’s one of his earliest releases, and far from his best. But it’s an interesting opportunity to examine the early sparks of a talent that would soon explode.
Delay would break free in 2000 with an astounding run of albums: Entain, Vapaa Muurari Live as Uusitalo, and Vocalcity as Luomo. These albums sound like nothing else, but Sistol sounds like a lot of microhouse albums that came out around the time, and it exemplifies the convention from which Delay would have to break free for his talent to fully flower. The beats are rigid and not terribly funky. Too-clever affectations abound: The skipping kick drum on “Luomo” reads like a mistake rather than a subversion, and “Hac” teases being in the wrong time signature for no reason at all. It’s a relic from a time when microhouse itself was a novel concept and reducing dance music to its pointillist essentials was still subversive and scary.
That it’s a decent example of its ilk is to Delay’s credit. He was 21 when he made it, a Finn more interested in fishing and jazz drumming than club culture, possessed by a fierce talent but still willing to adapt to trends rather than transcend them. His sound-design skills were already well-developed, and these tracks have a holistic quality, as if rather than being made from layered drums and bass and chords they were sculpted from a single substance and pulled apart until they snapped. There’s the sense on all his best work that he’s tapped into a primordial bedrock and all his tracks are sculpted from it.
But this is the kind of album young artists make to prove themselves to the world, and it doesn’t have much purpose beyond that. It’s nowhere near as listenable as its predecessors on Chain Reaction nor the ‘00s microhouse masterpieces like Ricardo Villalobos’ Alcachofa, Matthew Herbert’s Bodily Functions, or Delay’s own Vocalcity that created experiences as immersive as the best rock albums. Vocalcity could be seen as a sort of corrective to Sistol, arguing that minimal music could be suave and sexy and needn’t sacrifice its sense of fun in the service of sonic innovation.
Why Delay is so insistent we hear Sistol is a mystery. Maybe he’s nostalgic for the time it represents; it does, after all, evoke the era more acutely than any of his other works. Maybe he’s saying we ought to appreciate it as his first complete work, which is true but says nothing of its quality. He probably had to make something like Sistol to get to his best albums. But that doesn’t mean you should listen to it first.