After a lengthy spell away from music, Finland’s Hannu Karjalainen returns with his third album (and the first to use his full name), A Handful Of Dust Is A Desert. It’s a lush, secluded place, no less than an ambient paradise for those lucky enough to find it, concealed as it is by shady coves and virgin sand.
Black locks of fresh seaweed wash up on the shoreline of the music, arriving on the white crest of a slow wave and composed from smooth-toned electronics which gradually work their way up the beach. Bright notes leap out of the sound like a school of smiling dolphins. Everything is smooth, and even the earth-shaking bass notes seem to float. The sculpted, circular tones are unchained from their weighty definitions, and its anvil-like attacks are missing in action.
Opener “Angel” appears to be in the process of lightly dissolving. Its notes fizzle like a just-opened can of Sprite, and the slender sound is perfect for the undressing of summer. Echoing sounds drape the listener in perpetual vapors. The music drifts, almost comatose in the undulating ambient way, but also never without a dull moment. Wet sounds repeat, demonstrating some kind of structure, a musical architecture, within the loose, echoing ambient vibes.
Flowing on…just flowing on.
Dreamcatchers hang in silent rooms, weaving together new dreams as each note makes a soft landing. Chords fade out, and as their endlessly-delayed, stacked rhythms are erased, they come apart with an increasingly distant look in their eyes. The album is crystal-bright, at least 99.9% of the time. Ambient can engage and appear lively without losing its authenticity or depth. A Handful Of Dust Is A Desert is proof of that.
The haunting “Love Is A Black Lion” is like an eclipse, turning gold into a bleached bronze and medicine into poison. The dream morphs into a temporary nightmare. Lower notes stalk this trailing melody, and it never seems to outrun the Krueger-esque claws. It tries to run away from danger, but it all happens in slow motion and the melody’s never able to gain any distance. But this isn’t Elm Street – the angelic chorus of “Breaks My Heart She Aria” disperses the dissonance. Its bittersweet sound brings immediate relief. Shining with a safe, spectral light, washing over the music like a gathering of visiting angels, it also has the honor of closing the album, and there isn’t a better way to do it. Welcome back, Hannu. (James Catchpole)
Release date: 8 September