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Album Review: HK119 – Imaginature

HK119 – aka Finnish multimedia artist Heidi Kilpelainen – has made a name for herself in the indie/electro world in recent years. In 2004, prominent Icelandic artist Björk named HK119 her favourite act of the year – an endorsement that did wonders for HK119 and was followed with a record label with One Little Indian, a number of singles, and three albums, the most recent of which is Imaginature.

There’s quite a fun story behind the album’s conception, too. While wandering around the Brazilian wilderness, Kilpelainen ran into what I’m going to refer to as a Jungle Shaman named Adailson who inspired her to pay more attention to the natural world. Later, while wandering around her native Finland (she does a lot of wandering), Kilpelainen was halted by a particularly beauteous birdsong. Realizing that she’d never really listened to nature before, and recalling the Jungle Shaman’s advice, she decided to focus on bringing the wonders of the organic world to her music. Thus, Imaginature was born.

This is not a Herzogian vision of nature; HK119 takes even the ugliest bits – like ants, nobody likes ants – and makes them pretty. Her dreamlike, heavily distorted electro-pop synthesizes audio recordings of running water, footsteps through snow, buzzing insects, and chirping birds: the result is a lucid, and slightly disorienting, celebration of nature.

Though she accomplishes her goal, there is something intrinsically wrong with the basic concept. Isn’t there a logical fallacy in the utilisation of the most artificial human creations to portray the most organic elements of nature? There’s nothing organic about the album; everything is electronically manipulated and distorted, including the recordings of nature and Kilpelainen’s own voice. From that point of view there is an inherent contradiction in the mere existence of the album, but I’m probably just over thinking things. Obviously, HK119 does appreciate nature and everything in it – probably a lot more than I do – and this just happens to be her preferred mode of expression. If it was really a huge issue, then the aforementioned jungle shaman likely wouldn’t have collaborated on one of the songs.

But enough of that, this is a really intriguing album. The songs range from ambient to energetic, accessible to alienating, experimental to conventional… actually, no, nothing about this album is conventional: HK119 is an innovative force. The most standard thing she does is including choruses in some of the songs. Otherwise, this is as creation-heavy as nature itself, without any of the sheer overwhelming violence that Herzog mentions.

The opening track ‘Wild Grass’ is the perfect start to the album. Running to almost seven minutes in length, the song sets the scene for Kilpelainen’s thought process, painting a picture of the disaffected 21st century lifestyle and the romantic notion of a cleaner, simpler, more genuine natural world. The follow-up, ‘Snowblind’, meanwhile, is an almost surrealistically poetic ode to nature. The music video is similarly odd and pretty; it’s a weird balance, but worth watching nonetheless.

The rest of the album consists of these mini-tributes to particular aspects of nature such as ‘Whale,’ ‘Milky Way,’ ‘Moss,’ ‘Spring,’ ‘Rain,’ and ‘White Owl,’ to name just a few. Imaginature was, to be honest, quite unlike anything I’d ever listened to before. What HK119 has produced here is definitely worth spending time with, though. If experimental electronica isn’t really your thing then you might not like it, but the underlying ideas and feelings in the songs are thought-provoking nonetheless.

- Chris Melville

HK119′s Imaginature is out now on One Little Indian. You can pick up a copy here.

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