Three years ago, i featured in my ‘Free internet music’ series a new release from Finnish musician Lassi Nikko, aka Brothomstates, who had surprised everyone at the end of 2017 by suddenly putting out a new 13-minute track after over a decade and a half of silence. In the final week of 2020, he surprised us all again, this time in the form of a revised, remastered edition of his first album Kobn-Tich-Ey, which was originally released in 1998. i say ‘released’, but in fact Kobn-Tich-Ey surely ranks among the earliest albums to have been made available only as a free download (a copy of the original webpage can be seen via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine).
Though somewhat pioneering from a technical perspective, the album nonetheless suffered from the fact that, like so much digital audio at that time, it was encoded as horribly low-resolution (128Kbps!) mp3 files. On top of this, one of the most prominent issues with Kobn-Tich-Ey was its clarity – or, rather, lack of it. The album was mastered at a very low level, so quiet that the only way to really hear what was going on was to crank up the volume to absurdly high levels. Furthermore, a cross between a glitch and an oversight plagued the final track, ‘Bathroom Tests’; having come to a fairly conclusive end, a new drifting idea slowly began to fade in, only to be rudely silenced as the track abruptly ended. So something had clearly gone seriously wrong there. Despite these issues, though, Kobn-Tich-Ey has remained a popular, well-regarded album throughout the last twenty-plus years, being an imaginative bringing together of elements from IDM, ambient, acid, techno and electronica. As such, while one can hear echoes in it of the kind of thing Aphex Twin, Luke Vibert, Boards of Canada, Autechre and Plaid (among others) were doing around the same time, it remains completely individual and distinctive.
The most obvious improvement in the remastered version, appropriately slightly retitled ReKobn-Tich-Ey, is its clarity; now mastered properly, for the first time the full detail and depth of the music are revealed. The general approach in each track involves layering: its palette of elements are played with, turned on and off, brought in and out of focus, sometimes left to lurk in the background, other times either brought forward or suddenly exposed at a distance. This palette is generally kept quite small: one or two central melodic or gestural ideas, a rudimentary bassline, various interrelated beat patterns, and a layer of harmony that usually consists of vaporous drifting cloud chords. Often these elements slowly fade in and out, and the remaster reveals that, in many cases, they begin a lot earlier and / or last a lot longer than was previously obvious. The whole balance of elements, and the way they interact with each other, can finally be heard with pristine clarity.
In his later output, the Brothom States EP (2000), Claro (2001, his second and last album) and above all the single Rktic (2004), there’s a much stronger emphasis on the music’s dance credentials, but that’s not what dominates ReKobn-Tich-Ey. On the contrary, if anything this interplay between a small number of elements results in a much more meditative kind of experience. That’s partly due to the way we recognise and follow these various layers moving in and out of focus, in the process leading to new perceptions of what they’re actually doing. On a couple of occasions in opening track ‘Itch’, the first occurring around halfway through, most of the bass and harmonic backdrop vanishes, and the quasi-regular beats start to fizzle and glitch, suddenly sounding as if they’re going twice as fast as they were before (a trick also used by Plaid in their 1999 track ‘Gel Lab’). Whether or not this is actually true is a judgement call: either way, when the vanished elements return the impression of tempo remains convoluted. Moments like this also highlight that the way Brothomstates’ elements truly gel is also a judgement call; even with the crystal clarity of Rekobn-Tich-Ey (perhaps because of it), i often find myself perceiving the music as a number of simultaneous, superimposed layers rather than a single cohesive whole. That’s not at all a criticism: i like the fact that the fabric of Rekobn-Tich-Ey is loose-weave, even a touch cumbersome; and it’s important to stress that at no point do any of these possibly-maybe-cohering elements feel out of place or incongruous. Whatever else they may or may not be doing, they’re certainly complementary.
The meditative quality i mentioned also arises from the circularity of the material, rooted in loops and cycles, and the subsequent longer-term structural ambiguity they bring about. Oftentimes, beats, bass and melody will all disappear, leaving only the most nebulous elements remaining. This establishes a wonderful range and depth of perspective, and the disorientation it causes is a lovely counterpoint to the (ostensible) certainty and regularity of its highly metric rhythmic and melodic language. In ‘Abdea’, in particular, there’s a short episode around halfway through when everything drops out except for some distant harmonic burbling, which in the original was borderline inaudible but can now be heard as a nicely oblique moment of contemplation before everything kicks back into place.
There were times on the original album when Brothomstates’ whimsical approach to the deployment of his elements felt a bit like treading water. The longer tracks, ‘Abdea’, ‘Flue’ and ‘Bathroom Tests’, sounded at times as if their range of ideas was being stretched a little thin. In their remastered forms, with the subsequent increase in clarity, punch and playfulness, that effect is significantly reduced. They’re still, perhaps, a bit overlong, but now it doesn’t really seem to matter – if anything, it seems much more to be a logical, even necessary consequence of its structural fluidity.
The word ‘remastered’ has all sorts of connotations, and in the case of ReKobn-Tich-Ey, in addition to overall improvements there have been a couple of prominent alterations. The original third track, ‘Mr Y’, has been removed entirely. Notwithstanding everything i’ve said about my affection for the album, i can’t help feeling removing this track is a wise move. It always sounded more like a sketch than a fully-finished composition, and the tone of its chirpy wobbly melody seemed somewhat at odds with the more sophisticated attitude that prevails elsewhere. And bringing the album to a close is new track ‘Outro’, the complete version of what was originally heard as the aforementioned messed-up glimpse of something after the end of ‘Bathroom Tests’. Heard now in its full, 5-minute entirety, it functions as an epilogue to ReKobn-Tich-Ey, where laid back beats emerge from an atmosphere of float with some scattered ambient glitter. In some ways it’s the most meditative track of all, harmonically static and, element-wise, relatively single-minded.
i’m never going to lose my fondness for Kobn-Tich-Ey. It introduced us to the enigma that was / is Brothomstates, whose output, though small, made a unique contribution to the world of electronica around the turn of the millennium (not unlike Lexaunculpt, who also vanished after his impressive debut album in 2003). But at the same time i’m happy to leave the original behind, with all its sonic shortcomings, and switch to ReKobn-Tich-Ey, which to my ear is the preferred, even definitive, way to experience this music. There can’t be many albums that have existed in two such polar opposite forms: the original as low-res 128Kbps MP3s, the remaster as high-res 24-bit, 96kHz FLACs. The transition (and the time span) between them is huge, but ultimately it simply brings massive clarity to the imagination and inventiveness that, in spite of everything, had always been evident.
Self-released a couple of weeks ago, ReKobn-Tich-Ey is available as a free download from the Brothomstates Bandcamp site. And for anyone wanting to compare and contrast, click the link below for the original 1998 version.