A psychedelic, conceptual study of nature and mystery from a unique and vital artist.
Imaginature, the third album by Finnish multimedia artist HK119 (aka Heidi Kilpeläinen, a London-based, Finnish-born artist), saw a dramatic shift from compact, spiky electro-pop to much more wistful psychedelic realms. Apparently inspired by an enlightening conversation with a Brazilian shaman, it’s a conceptual work revolving around the wonders of the natural world albeit from a fevered hallucinogenic perspective where beauty and mystery are accentuated and a spiritual oneness with the environment profoundly felt.
An expansive, cinematic experience, Imaginature is marked by striking contradictions. Avant-garde yet dotted with accessible pop melodies. Constructed from 20th Century synth sounds but very much a polished product of 2013. Sophisticated and intelligent while retaining a childlike innocence via lyrics that occasionally verge on twee (but never cloyingly). Electronic yet evoking a tangible sense of nature in its most exotic forms. In fact, the latter contradiction may hold the key to the record’s subliminal theme; a utopian dream of the natural world harmoniously coexisting with the technological. “Plastic nature music” as producer Christoffer Berg described the album. A synthesis of the artificial and the organic. And yet, behind the earnest new age sentiments, there’s a sense that the music is actually describing a chemically-enhanced vision of natural beauty, perhaps the result of ingesting ayahuasca – the powerful shamanic psychoactive infusion. It’s an amped-up, idealistic vision where Kilpeläinen, the reawakened narrator, sees the world anew from an altered perspective, her heightened senses lending colour and sound a concentrated vividness. Not that Imaginature is bereft of darkness or tension. At intervals, jarring musical elements and urgent tribal rhythms conspire to create the sensation of an ambiguous threat. This is no sanctimonious Greenpeace tract or meditation soundtrack for middle-class hippies, but a celebration of nature as a force – neither benign nor malicious – with an admiration for its mysterious, sometimes endangering powers.
Wild Grass exemplifies many of Imaginature’s enigmatic qualities. Almost comically pretentious dialogue alluding to a ritual involving snake venom gives way to droned incantations, ominous synths, and an ambience of brooding mystery. Then, without warning, the rainforest soundscape erupts into life with sparkling early Eighties electronica and Kilpeläinen’s angelic vocals; the prelude to a gloriously ethereal but assertively radio-friendly chorus. However, the exotic is never far away as ever-shifting atmospheric textures evoke the lush greens and humidity of the Amazon in between the passages of dancebeat-driven pop.
Snowblind, where trip-hop reggae and sultry jazz-tinged vocals relent to a huge wash of glistening synths, and the way in which a vast life-affirming chorus violently rips through eerie Residential torch song Hide are both thrilling examples of the record’s unpredictable eclecticism. The latter even winds down with a sax solo that appears to have escaped from the Breaking Glass soundtrack.
Throughout, Kilpeläinen draws from an extensive range of influences, assembling sometimes incongruous styles and sounds with great artistry, miraculously creating a cohesive experience rather than a mess of forced experimentation. The culture-clash of tribal rhythms and late 70’s Schools & Colleges interval music found on Milky Way would almost certainly be disastrous in lesser hands.
Effervescent pop and the avant-garde sit side-by-side on much of Imaginature although a handful of tracks are weighted more towards the latter. Album highlight Whale is a dense, stygian psychodrama where the protagonist is dragged to the depths of the ocean by the titular creature. This hallucinatory tale is propelled by an irresistible low-freq bass riff and a rhythm that mercilessly pummels your innards. The brief appearance of a soulful pop chorus (reminiscent of Florence & The Machine) lends an uncompromising piece an unexpected heavenly pop hook before a harsh, penetrating electronic noise leads to an abrupt dramatic conclusion. Meanwhile, Adailson and Moss see a return to the forest and the mystical rituals of its inhabitants. The former, which features a spoken word performance by the shaman of the title, is a baffling but effective synthesis of clunky electronics, sombre incantatory vocals, and a harpsichord refrain that recalls late Sixties British espionage thrillers! Moss is a full-tilt DMT trip scored by pulsing techno; a delirious account of shape-shifting animals, internalised objects, and bodies dissolving into the earth to unite with nature’s life force. Heady stuff, indeed.
This is a work of unfettered creativity by a true maverick – an artist undaunted by the concept of lazy-minded journalists ridiculing her choice of subject (the natural world generally being the ‘uncool’ preserve of new age relaxation CD manufacturers), and willing to place accessible pop hooks in a surreal, sometimes challenging context. Most importantly, the experiment works to a magical effect, taking us on a consistently stimulating, intoxicating journey through foreign landscapes, natural and psychological.
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