(18 April 2005) Finland's Kemopetrol came into being in early 1999 as the result of an instrumental side project by keyboardist Kalle Koivisto and guitarist Marko Soukka who were then playing in the band Charm Quirk. When vocalist Laura Närhi joined the experiment, the remaining two members of Charm Quirk, drummer Teemu Nordman and bass player Kari Myöhänen were quickly summoned and the quintet played their first gig in March 1999. In April, they recorded a demo disc appropriately entitled Demopetrol.
Reaction was overwhelmingly positive and Kemopetrol began recording their debut album in July. A single, "Child Is My Name," from the forthcoming album was released in November, and their first TV appearance followed shortly after. The album, Slowed Down (Plastinka MusicMakers (Finland) PLACD01 and PLACD02, 2000) was released in April 2000.
The band's sound is unique, combining cinematic songwriting, complex cross-rhythms, hypnotic instrumental shading under laid with powerful bass lines and topped off with Laura's siren voice. It's an intoxicating cocktail.
The upbeat opening track, "Tomorrow," introduces immediately the rhythmic complexity that features on a number of the tracks--the drums, keyboard and bass all weaving their own lines to great effect. This track also has some great keyboard solos from Kalle.
The styles of music invoked are many and varied, even within a single track. "African Air," for example, has a relaxed ska groove running through it, a totally unexpected accordion solo by Leri Leskinen and some nifty turntable work from DJ Slow, all of which fit perfectly within the overall sound. One of
the crowning glories of this album is the way it keeps surprising you time after time.
The band knew what they were doing when they released "Child Is My Name" five months ahead of the album itself. It's a stunning piece of music with which to introduce oneself to the world. Drums and a strong bass set the scene with some underlying keyboard strings adding mood before Laura's vocals come in with the line "Immortal angels, dressed up as junkies" over this sparse but rhythmic
backing. The line is later turned on its head to great effect. There's also a wonderful chorus with some powerful guitar from Marko. With this song they have achieved the seemingly impossible task of creating a danceable track that is
also utterly chilling. "This is my hand, shaking and raised, reaching out for something more than mere play." It is a prime example of musical alchemy at its best.
The melodic complexity of the band is shown off to great effect "Night After Night" with each musician weaving a line of their own into the wholecloth of the song. There's no hint of an actual chord till the memorable chorus, later there's another fine understated keyboard solo from Kalle. A sedate piano introduces "View On The Sea" and Laura joins in alone for the first verse before the band power in for the chorus. The track also contains a lovely string interlude arranged by Esa Nieminen.
The second half of the album opens with two immense tracks. "Drown Little Girl" has an almost industrial quality such is its power. Laura's vocals have a laconic, fittingly disinterested feel at times in this piece about the story of
girl drowning which is on TV so often that the true tragedy of it is lost. "I keep seeing you every day now on my TV, and when I get bored, I turn it off, you don't exist anymore" before she screams the repeated chilling mantra "It
leaves me cold, it leaves me cold." A fine take on the ongoing debate regarding the desensitizing effect of television.
The high standard of Kalle Koivisto's song writing is maintained throughout the album and his ability to sum up big ideas in short pithy lines is exceptional, especially when bearing in mind he isn't working in his first language.
"Drown Little Girl" segues into the equally strong "Teeth" which has the same repetitive intensity of say Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks," again Kari's bass playing is very much to fore.
With "Disbelief" we're moving back into the musical territory first explored in the opening track. The song starts with some unusual keyboard chord sounds reminiscent of John Martyn's "Small Hours" (from One World) before the song leaps into life with the drum/bass combination. It's another remarkably strong piece with a fine build to an immense climax before it drifts away into the ether.
The title track "Slowed Down" has an appropriately slow groove driven by a keyboard bass line. The track features some fine understated guitar work from Marko, and some very effective vocals from Laura, including a spoken section.
Throughout the album, her voice dives, weaves and floats emotively. Perhaps the nearest equivalent is Sarah Blackwood from the criminally under-rated Dubstar.
All the songs are sung in English, and her pronunciation is better than any number of native British vocalists. Only very occasionally is there a hint of a accent such as we've become accustomed to from say Bjork. Oddly there's also a
hint of Kirsty MacColl in some of Laura's delivery.
The closing piece "Without Listening" has dance tendencies balanced by some enigmatic lyrics and whilst not the album's finest moment still packs a punch many bands can only fantasize about. The arrangements throughout show great imagination. There are many elements, both contemporary and retro, that ghost their way into the music, but these are always subsumed into the distinct Kemopetrol sound.
There's also a special edition of the album (PLACD02) available with a full length bonus disc containing excellent remixes of "Disbelief," and "African Air," and with two each of "Tomorrow" and "Child Is My Name." There are also live versions of "African Air," a very slinky live "Slowed Down," "Disbelief" and a very powerful "Drown Little Girl. Finally there's the video of "Child Is My Name." The special edition is worth the search. And Slowed Down is certainly an essential album.--Jamie Field in Hereford England and Russ Elliot in New York