The members of the krautrock throwback group K-X-P have backgrounds in a wide range of notable Finnish projects. Anssi Nykanen played with progressive rock guru Pekka Pohjola, Tomi Leppanen was a member of the goofy electro band Aavikka, and Tuomo Puranen played with saxophonist Jimi Tenor. In America, though, the most likely point of reference is Timo Kaukolampi, K-X-P’s vocalist and creative foundation, who was the producer and co-writer for Norwegian pop songstress Annie (as well as the instigator who finally convinced Smalltown Supersound to release Don’t Stop).
None of these unlikely influences make sense as antecedents to K-X-P, however. For the key to the genesis of this album, one must turn to Op:l Bastards, the turn-of-the-millennium experimental krautrock band of which both Kaukolampi and Puranen were members. This connection highlights Kaukolampi’s long fascination with the genre. He certainly has it pegged: there is hardly a moment on this record that is not anchored by an incessant, driving motorik rhythm.
Although K-X-P and Op:l Bastards share an overarching aesthetic, there is a marked difference in tone and atmosphere between the two. K-X-P have none of the hard-edged, dance floor-ready synths that Op:l Bastards sometimes indulged in. K-X-P are sleeker, more concise, and frankly, prettier. One gets the sense that Kaukolampi spent the intervening decade getting a bit more sun than he was previously accustomed to.
The album’s opening tracks, “Elephant Man” and “Mehu Moments,” quickly familiarize the listener with the territory that it covers. The drums and bass propel the songs forward at a machinelike pace, and the synths and electronics use this sturdy foundation to build the dynamics, rising and falling in patient melodies. The rest of the album follows this blueprint, with some songs adhering militantly to krautrock prescriptions (“Aibal Dub”) and others stretching out a bit more, at times even dropping the rhythm section completely in favor of extended drones (“Epilogue”).
The album’s lone misstep comes in its second half, with “Pockets.” This is the second (and last) time that Kaukolampi’s vocals are featured. Unlike “18 Hours (Of Love),” on which they add a distinct dynamic element, here the vocals are needlessly distracting — an approximation of John Lydon doing his best Droopy the Dog impression and landing dangerously close to ludicrous. It’s a shame, given that the track’s seven-plus minute running time arguably makes it the album’s centerpiece.
Given that K-X-P’s intention was to modernize the grooves laid down over 40 years ago by krautrock pioneers like Can and Faust, they’ve (mostly) succeeded with this debut release. It certainly makes relevant again a genre that is too often confined to the popular music history books.