In the last decade, the Finnish psych scene has carved out a distinctive and alluring niche for itself in the often cluttered market of subterranean, improvised psychedelia. As painstakingly documented by labels such as Fonal, theirs is an effortless aggregation drawing from the rich history of 60s/70s European psychedelia (primarily the more ethereal acoustic musings of the Harvester/Trad Gras Och Stenar lineage) coupled with very pronounced aesthetic influences from the 90s/00s eruption of wandering and aberrant psych revivalists both American (The No-Neck Blues Band, Sunburned Hand of the Man) and British (Ashtray Navigations, Vibracathedral Orchestra). Yet there’s an undeniable peculiarity in particular to Kemialliset’s estranged take on these obvious forebears, with their mix of traditional and exotic acoustic instrumentation consistently at odds with a bevy of electronic eccentricity in the way of cheap synths, tape manipulation, and other hard-to-distinguish bits of processing tools.
In this regard, there’s a learned whimsy to Kemialliset’s singular jauntiness, readily apparent on Ullakkopalo, one that fights for equal footing with a more sober determination. The latter aspect of their personality comes across more as a general byproduct of the band’s vast talents; while the more giddy elements threaten to turn Ullakkopalo precious on occasion — opener “Kajastusmuseo” is a good example — a practiced musicality becomes the adequately predominant distinction on pieces like “Älä Koske Lintuja,” where the guitar-fuzz guides the Pied Piper-marching-line of collaged eccentricities into a realm more studied.
Picking apart an album like Ullakkopalo track-by-track is something of a fallacy; the ebb and flow of the 14 pieces exist as a unified organism, with songs both brief and cultivated bridging together the near-overwhelming flurry of sonic ideals being let loose. It’s this unity that is most admirable about Kemiallisat: how the sprite-like vocals and delicate banjo being ambushed by impish electronic chirps and twitters on “Nitty Veden Alla” exhibits kinship with the majestic and elegant “Palava Puolokka,” where free-jazz-glazed horns stab through a haze of handsome drones. Likewise, closer “Lyön Häntäni Vetoa, Täällä Oli Äsken Joku,” also the longest piece on the album, welds all of Kemialliset’s disparate dispositions beautifully, the finger-picked guitar and synth pulses at the end weaving one of the album’s more euphoric moments.
The increased audio fidelity on Ullakkopalo and other recent releases by the band makes for an overpowering listen, with each varied sonic element rendered pristine and discernible. Indeed, Ullakkopalo is another wholly satisfying product from this talented group, an alien counterpoint to the more darkened and murky concerns of Avarus, with whom both bands share personnel. Ullakkopalo only seems absurd at its surface, but the learned methodology at its core crafts something uncommonly gratifying.