‘Olento’, alongside ‘Metri’, are the key pillars of Mika Vainio’s unparalleled catalogue, which makes this first repress in long over a decade 100% essential if you don’t already know.
A resoundingly influential blueprint for electronic minimalism since its original 1996 release, ‘Olento’ followed the more robust, 4:4 pulse of 1995’s ‘Metri’ with a sensitively expressive, if still icy, grasp of pure electrical current that has remained a definitive hallmark of Mika Vainio’s sound. Bookended by shockingly sweet passages of music box melody, the album sees Vainio at his freehand best, coaxing out a spectra of atmospheric tones and rugged rhythms resembling dancehall and techno with a mix of gauntleted gruffness and tender haptics that has become established as his signature. In terms of its melancholy melodic arrangements, it’s all perhaps best compared to Mika’s standout ’Kantamoinen’ album, while its offset sort of rhythms would patently go on to merge with Ilpo Väisänen’s pendulous patterns in Pan Sonic following their 4:4 phase, and pave the way for Mika’s later Ø classics such as ‘Aste’ and the mighty ‘Oleva’ LP.
As some wise gadge once said “Mika Vainio gives character to noise”, and that’s quite apparent throughout ‘Olento.’ Working with a palette of modified hardware and oscillators, Mika patiently gave shape to pure sine waves, tweaking and sculpting them into a range of booming basses, precise clicks and gloaming atmospheric presence that you couldn’t simply find in off-the-shelf presets. The haptic act of digits on dials and sliders proved key to the difference between Mika’s sounds and software settings, resulting an endlessly unique and physically affective bank of sounds that he can safely call his own, while in the process defining the principles for so much raw techno, minimalist purism and power electronics to follow.
Perhaps most outstanding about ‘Olento’ is that, for all its austere Northern European nature and skeletal make-up, it swings like the best Afro-American rock ’n roll, blues and house that Mika adored. OK, it may not have standard chords or vocals, but cuts like ‘Kaskaat’ and ‘Mugwumb’ are practically icy distillations of hip hop or dancehall patterns, while ‘Throb-S’ finds effortlessly slinky routes between monotone EBM and dancehall. But if you’re looking for the most potent flavours, they manifest in the album’s iciest, and ironically absorbing cuts, with the deliquescent purism of ‘Stratostatti’ and the-last-word-on-dub-chords ‘Ilta’ effectively saying he most with the least, in Mika’s timeless style. It’s always terrible to think that there will be no more new Mika Vainio releases, but at least we have his abundant catalogue to rake back over and rediscover gems like this album.