XL Jukola (Pohjola Records, 1998)
A four piece band from Finland, XL's second album Jukola showcases a breathtaking depth of sonic collage in eleven songs of melodic, instrumental rock. Jukola mixes throbbing dance beats with rock and jazz passages, spacey ambient sections with driving rock riffs, live instruments with electronics and processing, all framed in eccentric arrangements with dynamics that range from whisper quiet to rock clamor.
Jukola sounds immaculate, with sonic textures ranging from traditional guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards, to electronic percussion, effects, samples, and rhythmic vocal chants, to live saxophone and a string quartet. XL wields this broad sonic palette with subtlety and restraint in sparse arrangements of calm sections, such as the trio instrumentation of the middle section of "The Dream Master." This section gradually builds with brief accents from the string quartet and a synth bells patch. Where appropriate, the music rages with intensity in luxuriant arrangements, such as the closing section to the title track with layered guitars and strings.
Although the arrangements and sounds leap from one to the next with a quirky originality, the melodies often follow predictable patterns, such as the guitar lead at the end of "The Dream Master," the saxophone in "The Palace of the Great Vizir of Angst," the guitar progression opening "Markiisi Humus," and the guitar chords in the closing of "Jukola." The easily accessible melodic fragments do keep the focus on the intricate arrangements, but melodies as unconventional as XL's sounds and arrangements might create an even deeper and more challenging listening experience.
XL demonstrates a mastery of sonic development and placement on Jukola, mixing the traditional and the most unusual within conventional melodies.
Reviewed by Scott Andrews [sha3u@Virginia.edu]
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