Kimmo Pohjonen - Sensitive Skin

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Kimmo Pohjonen
Sensitive Skin
Octopus/Ondine (

Finnish musician Kimmo Pohjonen is living proof that the words “accordion” and “uninhibited” belong in the same sentence. It might seem an oxymoronic assertion, especially in the States, to those who may know the bellows only as the bane of childhood cool, but Pohjonen reminds us of the instrument's rich folk history and, more importantly, potential for innovation. To that end, he has outfitted his accordion as a musical generator par excellence, one that speaks electric and acoustic languages with equal fluency. Also fluent is the original art he has composed through and around his chosen medium. Recorded in his home studio, Sensitive Skin is the culmination of the many strands running through his previous albums. From classical to pop, jazz to film score, there's a little bit of something for every listener to bite into.

Fueled by a slew of guest talents, including the Kronos Quartet, guitarist Timo Kämäräinen, multi-instrumentalist James Spectrum (who also produces), Tuomas Norvio on electronics, vocalist Ismo Alanko, and more, the album blasts off into an imaginative sound-world from the first moments of “Cyclon.” This song boasts an analog-flavored warmth that will feel familiar to any child of the 80s, even as it tries on a wardrobe's worth of digital clothing. The homemade aesthetic speaks to the integrity of Pohjonen's process. But don't let its humble origins fool you in theory: in practice the results are nothing short of epic.

Pohjonen's use of vocals adds layers of ozone to the drama, which by album's end sparks a clima(c)tic sea change. Such human elements are the Times New Roman to the electronics' Helvetica. It's refreshing, then, to bask in the glow of “Lamina” after the opening onslaught, and with no loss of vividness. Where the other feels like unrelenting burrowing, this is a horizontal glide along frozen rivers. It's the kind of respite that comes rarely in the Pohjonen experience, revisited in the even icier “Serenity.”

Whether a video game soundtrack come to life (“Sulo”) or a carnivalesque ballad (“Ramsoo”), Pohjonen handles every stylistic association with a sensitivity that is formidable, given the depth and breadth of his power. Despite the musculature of his playing, his arranging assures that nothing gets broken. The inclusion of the Kronos Quartet is especially savvy in this respect. Their strings enliven “Anemone” and “Emissio” with all manner of ear candy.

But across Pohjonen's keys is where his farthest-reaching visions come to fruition. “Atomi,” for instance, gives a microscopic look into the inner workings of his craft, even as it describes his most expansive forces yet. It's a standout for its boldness of vision and willingness to freak out when it has to.

But it's the title track, dark and granular and the most accordion-centric, that sheds the most skins. Its relatively sparse network transcribes a chain of skyward transmissions, as if to distract us from the fact that everything we've just heard came from right here on Earth. - Tyran Grillo

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