Arts & CultureMusic

Review: Vladislav Delay’s latest ambient album ‘Visa’ is one of his best


After being denied the visa he needed to tour in the United States, Vladislav Delay, a.k.a. electronic producer Sasu Ripatti, found himself with a lot of spare time on his hands. What to do? I like to imagine that Ripatti glanced around his domicile and saw his pile of electronic equipment waiting for him.  Angelic harps played, a lightbulb went off, and the producer sat down to commence work on Visa, his most compelling release under the Vladislav Delay name in some time.

Ripatti has never been one to rely on extended drones and loops to kill time, but Visa may be his most physical-sounding album yet. Throughout the record, we hear Ripatti exert himself on his equipment, twiddling knobs at will and relishing his role as puppetmaster. Visa is an album made for fun, and Ripatti’s sheer joy at making these sounds shines through in the vigor with which he produces these tracks.

Ripatti calls Visa his first ambient album in over a decade. The Delay discography can roughly be split in half between his early ambient period and the more aggressive, dub-oriented approach he took following 2004’s Demo(n) Tracks. Elements of both eras are present on Visa. The metallic whirrs and clangs of the latter periods are abundant, but the way they’re integrated into a shifting whole is most reminiscent of his early oeuvre.

But what makes Visa so compelling is the new tricks Ripatti tries out. The most notable of these is the full-track pitch-shift, which Ripatti employs on every track but the gorgeous, looping closer “Viimeinen.” There’s also a lot more structure to these tracks than is typical for ambient music. “Viaton” is composed of two distinct parts, while “Vihollinen” has an audible, jarring ending that contrasts most with Delay tracks’ tendencies to transition into something else or fade out abruptly. Most of the tracks also yield to a different soundscape at least once during their run time, with “Viimeinen” once again the exception.

The most impressive track here is the 23 minute opener, “Visaton.” Though its sound is more in line with Delay’s dub-period work, its appearance is a welcome throwback – all of his Vladislav Delay full-lengths until Demo(n) Tracks contained a track 20 minutes or longer. Like the long songs on those albums, “Visaton” functions as a trial by fire, an obstacle course to cross in order to obtain the ambient treasure on the second half of the album.  Getting through it can make this album impenetrable for some, though it fades into the background after a rough start.

Yet, despite the best efforts of “Visaton,” Visa may be Delay’s most digestible album. Its accessibility largely owes to its length; it slides neatly by in 54 minutes, nearly half of them taken up by “Visaton.” In its brevity and musical palate, it reminds me most of one of Ripatti’s earliest releases: the 42-minute Kemikoski, released in 1999 as Conoco. Most of his subsequent albums have been over an hour long. Could it be that Ripatti is looking backwards to a time when the joys of making electronic music were new and exciting? Perhaps his free time offered a solution.

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Daniel Bromfield

Daniel Bromfield

Daniel Bromfield is a writer for the Arts & Culture desk of the Emerald, specializing in music. He maintained the SF Rebirth blog in San Francisco from 2010-2013, and his work has appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, KWVA, and the Oregon Voice.