05 October 2022


This year I've become a bit obsessed with Luomo's (AKA Vladislav Delay AKA Sasu Ripatti) 2000 Vocalcity LP.
It's considered a milestone in microhouse, a genre I've historically been pretty partial to. I probably came across Vocalcity on some “best of the 2000s” lists, scrubbed through some tracks, and sort of wondered what the fuss was about. Admittedly, microhouse records can come on a bit academic, and skimming through it probably sounded monotonous, reticent, and like it leaned too hard on the sort of jejune synth figures which dominate the beginning of its first track, Market. Well, I've given the whole thing many attentive listens now and I think it may just be the best dance album ever made.

It brings together all these wonderful strands of electronic dance music — deep house, minimal techno, dub techno, glitch — in such a serene, almost bland way — it doesn't feel contrived or even particularly idiosyncratic. But the general form is these long tracks bleeding into each other, at first feeling like exercises — itchy, maybe a little slinky, insistent... and then, at their own organic, self-assured pace, they develop into these deep, immersive, deeply sexy and generous meditations. In the end Vocalcity doesn't really sound “micro” at all — it sounds huge, enveloping, circadian.

One trick that's really impressed me is how it'll foreshadow vocal parts — a full track in advance sometimes — having them flutter by in the background like a peripheral vision. Or when the vocals do fully enter, the keys might be a step behind, the kick drum following later still. These teases and tugs are sort of EDM's bread and butter, but in Luomo's hands this stuff isn't cheap, it's exquisite — virtuosic even.

Market starts with that sticky synth riff, Morse code bass tapping on your forehead. Sharp intakes of breath, a sunny warble like Snell's window. It's not until 4:48 that a vocal at the verbal stage even enters, after which the rhythm takes on an explicit 2-step shuffle. At 8:16 the telephonic epiano drops out for a moment and everything relaxes into an aquarian languor. At 9:54, the synth from earlier is reprised, but pitched higher, performing a little seesaw parody of its original ostinato, before the track ultimately dissipates, glowing with serotonin, into its achey denouement.

The next track, Class, might be the best illustration of how Vocalcity rewards your patience, how it evolves what could be minimal techno clichés into chrismal, comely elaborations. After the first four minutes' jazzy, insouciant epiano and vocal refrain (“Nothing to do others can't do”), the track drops into a spartan, hard-stepping funk jam, the sort I've heard on many other microhouse and techno records. But then at 4:51, the drums briefly spin backwards, a female voice softly presides, and we shift almost subliminally into another chord: a balmy, purple C# minor 9. It's almost shocking to me how deft and powerful that moment is. It's really, really funky.

Synkro is probably the most repetitive track on the album — 14 minutes of “Because you move / the way you move” and pumping diaphragm-like bass — but oh my god is it just slow-cooked deep house perfection. Against a vortex of dubby creaks and scrapes and intermittent reedy sax quacks, Luomo massages from a Rhodes these glib, bluesy mordents. Completely outside of time, the groove unfurls. The cicada chirp of a hallucinogenically tactile 303. Backing female vocals echoing past in fragments (“got got got got…” “one more more more more…”). Stonerific dub canyons carved out with the pheromone-laced sweat of the deepest, most callipygian house.

The Right Wing I would say is most notable as a bridge between the hypnotic Synkro and the titanic Tessio. I mean don’t get me wrong, it’s itself an excellent demonstration of the pleasures of microhouse: a burbling, myopic, stolid and yet strangely genial jab of histamine. But it’s that long, diffuse tail leading into the next track — a woman speaking, another sniffling, airy pads, a phone ringing — and those eerie, grainy previews of the chorus to come — that really gives it its purpose.

Well, then. Tessio. What a climax. This is truly one of the great EDM anthems. It builds so beautifully — bass swelling, woozy and elastic — stray voices flickering like candle flames at a séance — and when it gets there it delivers. An almost brazen venture into full-bodied, sentimental pop songcraft, but retaining all the surrounding sprezzatura (the kickdrum doesn’t hit until 2 minutes in, the full beat 20 seconds after that), it’s without a doubt Vocalcity’s crown jewel and a triumph of soul in electronic music — the real thing.

She-Center closes the album out with a neon-streaked flying taxi ride: feline epiano, wine-dark pads, the reggae-est bass yet. A harem of moans and ahs, a cacophonous clatter of Scientist-style SFX. Finally, the ivory dryness of a muted acoustic guitar and last squelching stabs of that ever-present 303.

It’s awesome stuff. And though I haven’t been spinning it for 20 years straight, I have to imagine it’s an unusually sturdy dance record. Swollen, tactile, aspirated, spectral, sultry — to me Vocalcity may be the album that best delivers on the promise of what a long-playing dance record can be: simultaneously centrifuge and 3D fractal — this magnetically compelling yet infinitely explorable psychedelic biomechanical abstract sex microcosm… thing. Don’t skim. Get in there — it’s deep.