Mika Vainio Life (…It Eats You Up)

[Editions Mego; 2011]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: noise, electronic, prepared guitar
Others: Kevin Drumm, Azusa Plane, KTL, Merzbow

The solo career of Mika Vainio, former Pan Sonic member, has shifted dramatically over recent years, from experimental electronic-industrial genre mixtures to higher levels of abstraction in pure noise. Although his compositions have continued to progress toward the extreme, Life (…It Eats You Up) demonstrates Vainio’s ability to create seemingly uncompromising heaviness while still captivating casual listeners.

Case in point: noise purists feeling unsatisfied with Prurient’s recent ascent into synthesizer-driven musical structures will certainly be appeased by Vainio’s organic approach to sound manipulation, which here mostly centers around thick coats of guitar fuzz reminiscent of the late Jason DiEmilio’s style of weighted psychedelic axe drone. In fact, the strength of the record hinges on Vainio’s insistence that the guitar sound damaged and tortured, yet still undeniably recognizable. This approach not only keeps the abstraction relatively accessible, but it also allows standout tracks, such as the cacophonous “Throat,” to engage listeners on more familiar grounds. At the same time, much like Prurient’s Bermuda Drain, Life invites classic industrial influences into the mix, decorating itself with the occasional tinny programmed beat or random bass drop to add balance to moments of otherwise harshness.

This tendency to satisfy both the noise fanatic and the rock enthusiast is one of Vainio’s trademark talents, so it’s no surprise that he succeeds in walking the difficult tightrope between ear-piercing brutality and a more conventionally pleasurable aesthetic; it’s a taste for variety possibly carried over from his genre-bending work in Pan Sonic. Tracks such as “A Ravenous Edge” are doom-drenched dirges à la sunn 0)), while others sharply scrape rusty metal in the vein of Merzbow or Kevin Drumm’s Sheer Hellish Miasmah. It is, however, in songs like “Open Up and Bleed” (no, that’s not just a coincidence; Vainio is in fact covering The Stooges) that we see how the project’s exploration of more sonically disturbing territory has not completely abandoned former paradigms of musicality altogether. In what could have been a truly difficult record, Vainio has released something with much more complexity, using an inventive boldness to give us a refreshingly unique approach to a noise record that will likely earn him new ears.

Links: Editions Mego

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