Lonely synth pads, flecks of bass, and dub effects left to drift unmoored.
The songs and albums we cherish the longest aren’t usually the ones that hit us in the face with their greatness. Those tend to lose their flavor as we wear them out with overplay, and we’ll return fondly once in a while. The truly great ones ripen in the mind. Maybe we don’t like them that much at the beginning or are left with a bundle of confused emotions to sift through, but we’re thinking about them. Our interest turns to fascination, then our fascination into awe and, in the best cases, something like love.
When I think of Vladislav Delay’s Entain, I remember more than anything else how it lingered in my mind when I first found out about it. I was in college, was listening to a lot of house, and was obsessed with Vocalcity, Delay’s classic as Luomo. Curious about his other music, I sifted through his main moniker and found a lot of music I dismissed as impenetrable: blank album covers, long songs that didn’t change much. I was new to ambient.
It was Entain in particular that scared me. It’s an intimidating package. The tracks are either under two minutes long or more than 15, and there are only six of them. The cover is just the name of the artist and the album on a white background. The tracks are either untitled or titled cryptically, and what does that word mean anyway, “entain?” Vocalcity’s vivid blue cover makes it look inviting, immersive, something in which you can submerge yourself. The cover of Entain looks like the front of a court document.
But it lingered in my brain. Those letters seemed to spirit themselves right off the sleeve and make a home in my head. Its blank white started to look less like a piece of paper and more like an innards of a snowstorm. My imagination was on fire, and so was my curiosity. Since then, I’ve probably listened to Entain more than any other album, aside perhaps from childhood faves like Dark Side of the Moon. According to Spotify, “Kohde” is the song I’ve listened to the most this decade—meaning it may be the song I’ve listened to the most ever.
Entain is one of four albums released in 2000 by the Finnish artist Sasu Ripatti, a former jazz drummer who’s still making music and released a new album called Rakka this year. The others are Vocalcity, Multila as Vladislav Delay, and Vapaa Muurari Live as Uusitalo. There are commonalities between all the works, with Vapaa Muurari Live the Rosetta Stone uniting all of them; some of the same pads, beats, sounds, and digital crackles from Vapaa Muurari Live appear on Vocalcity, Entain, and Multila’s 22-minute centerpiece “Huone.”
Entain’s connection to the rest of the Delay oeuvre, though, is the eeriest. It’s almost exactly the same length as Vocalcity and has the same number of tracks, meaning it has the same average song length. I’ve always suspected Entain is a mirror of Vocalcity. All of Delay’s music seems to have been made from the same bedrock, and Entain is like Vocalcity with the middle cut out. The sex is gone, the grooves are gone, the momentum is gone. What’s left? Not much: lonely synth pads, flecks of bass, and dub effects left to drift unmoored.
And what Delay does with these things is enough to make Entain not only a satisfactory answer to Vocalcity but, arguably, its rival as his best album. Once its intimidating appearance softens, we can put our trust in the music to take us where it will rather than trying to conquer it like a mountain. It’s a lonely beast, and if it feels remote at first, maybe it’s just because it’s shy.
Opener “Kohde” bubbles and squeaks for 22 minutes, and when we hear it end for the first time, we’re surprised that we’ve passed through the belly of such a beast. But, largely because most of the things we really notice happen in its second half—the arrival of a snapping, elastic bass and a dub subduction that sounds like a grain silo’s contents suddenly yielding—it feels shorter. I think of “Kohde” a lot, because when a phone call or a task at work takes 22 minutes, I’m reminded how much more quickly that time flies when it’s spent listening to “Kohde.”
The true test of listeners’ loyalty is “Poiko.” Like the fin whale, second in size to the blue, it doesn’t seem that impressive at first by dint of being the second biggest. But it feels longer. It’s more obstinate, more defined by midrange snaps and squawks than the ebbing, undulating sonics we find on “Kohde.” It keeps us on edge in a way “Kohde” doesn’t. We can put on “Kohde” and forget about it (it’s my number-one Spotify song of the decade for exactly that reason). “Poiko” is a commitment.
The reward is the beauty we hear in the second half: “Notke,” slow, loping, its pads simmering and evaporating as the beat congeals into something resembling hip-hop, blessed at the end by what might be one of those wooden frogs you find in hippie tchotchke shops whose back you rub with a stick to produce a croak. And “Ele,” every one of its 15 minutes worth savoring, whose chords really are one of the great feats of sound design in ambient music.
The title of “Ele,” sometimes written as “E.L.E.” seems cryptic now. In 2000, listeners would’ve known it from the movie Deep Impact: Extinction Level Event. Are we looking at a portrait of the end of the world? I think it’s an affectionate nod to the ‘90s flicks Delay loved—films like Hurlyburly and Strange Days, the latter of which is sampled on the first of Entain’s two untitled tracks. The Strange Days scene finds the hero alone in his bedroom, despondent as the noise of the world buzzes around him. Just like the album, it situates us within a vastness.
The second of those two untitled tracks, coming at the very end, is the weakest cut on Entain. It sounds too cheery, too much like a resolution, to finish off an album so resistant to traditional emotional cues. Aside from that, this is the album with the cleanest and strongest arc in the Delay catalog aside from Vocalcity. It’s certainly more coherent than Multila, his contribution to the legendary Chain Reaction label’s catalog, whose pitch-black morass is interrupted by the lengthy and incongruous—if very good on its own—techno piece “Huone.”
Yet it’s Multila that’s being reissued this year along with Vocalcity, meaning both Entain and Vapaa Muurari have been passed by for a reevaluation. Why? Multila has been endorsed by Animal Collective, came out on a legendary label, occasionally hazards a four-on-the-floor kick. It remains an influence on ambient music, not least among Huerco S.’s West Mineral crew and latter-day dub-techno scientists like Terekke and Topdown Dialectic, and the upcoming reissue is likely to cement it alongside the Disintegration Loops of the world.
Maybe a different album cover would be the solution. A shot of a desolate Arctic landscape, perhaps, or maybe some cool fractal art like the one Prefab Sprout’s I Trawl the Megahertz was blessed with when it was reissued last year. But I hope that if it’s ever reissued, the original cover stays intact. I imagine shoppers picking it up, looking at the tracklist, and deciding it’s not for them—before those letters rise off the sleeve and stick to the back of their heads.