It’s pretty much impossible to read an article about HK119 without also reading an article about that other otherworldly Scandinavian who takes as much care over her visual image as she does over her music. The fact that the very same Björk used to namecheck her in interviews, and they’re both signed to the same record label (One Little Indian) hasn’t done anything to quell the comparasions.
Heidi Kilpeläinen, as her friends presumably call her, has been around for a while now, releasing two albums’ worth of slinky, cool electro-pop without really setting the world on fire. Imaginature marks a bit of a reinvention for her, teaming up with producer Christoffer Berg (who has worked with HK119’s closest sonic neighbours The Knife and Fever Ray), and – possibly more importantly – seems to have undergone some kind of spiritual awakening, enthusing over such natural delights as birdsong and the sound of waves in the press release which accompanies the album.
It’s a welcome move, for as impressive and inventive as HK119’s previous albums were, they were impossible to warm to for the most part. Kilpeläinen tended to keep her audience at a distance, sticking to the ‘ice-cold Scandinavian’ cliche as often as possible. It also didn’t help that her other albums have been long affairs – clocking in at 16 and 17 tracks respectively. For Imaginature, there are just 11 tracks, which makes for a far more manageable affair.
This new, more compact approach has paid dividends: Imaginature is HK119’s most pure ‘pop’ album yet. Yet it’s hardly conventional: opener Wild Grass starts off sounding almost orchestral before a mysterious male voice intones about a snake bite on his neck. Then, Kilpeläinen’s eerie, otherworldly voice slowly mutates into a warmer, stronger instrument as a barrage of synths create a full-on disco anthem. Then, towards the end, a sample of bird song floats in and around the drum patterns.
There’s also an impressively spacey dub sound to Milky Way, while Hide demonstrates Kilpeläinen’s way with a huge, catchy chorus. Perhaps the highlight though is the single Snowblind, which could give Grace Jones a run for her money with its sleazy, late-night glamour. Rather than the much mentioned Björk, a closer comparison would be Alison Goldfrapp, who is often brought to mind on tracks like Iceberg and Rain.
This approach begins to wear thin over the course of a full-length album however. Adailson is the centre-piece of the album featuring guest vocals from a mystical shaman who Kilpeläinen befriended while on a nature trip in Brazil. It should sound haunting and spiritual, but just winds up as sounding self-important and a tad pompous. Additionally, some of the tracks on the second half of the album seem to sacrifice melody for atmosphere.
Generally though, Imaginature is nothing less than an intriguing listen. It may not always work, and it certainly won’t be for everyone, but Kilpeläinen’s imagination and craft is something to wonder at.