Irish duo’s third LP centres on crate-digging psychedelic electronica
‘Advancement’ takes its cue from the “widespread decay of the natural world”, although if there are indigenous instruments and volcanoes as the press release promises, they’re buried under a galactic amount of precision engineering. This is no nature documentary. Solar Bears’ first album on Rob Da Bank’s Sunday Best label finds them as space age and as filmic as ever – more Chris Hadfield than Chris Packham. This is a duo, after all, that gave us such fabulous titles as ‘Happiness Is A Warm Spacestation’ and ‘Head Supernova’.
The production on ‘Advancement’ is stunning. The rewinding atmospherics of ‘Everything Set Right’ give the impression of a woozy summer being sucked back into the spring, a melodic theme that’s echoed later on with the delicately underplayed ‘Persona’. There’s the ethereal opening of ‘Scale’ that broadens into a stomping bass-driven anthem. And just taste that fat buttery bass and beefy power-snare on the utterly superb ‘Gravity Calling’. Over the pistoning rhythms of ‘Age Atomic’, synths arpeggiate with unbound glee. The choppy rhythm of ‘Man Plus’ has a beat drop at the two-thirds mark that will take your ears off. All quite delicious.
Although it’s a widescreen vista that not even Imax could contain, the album lacks the dirtiness of, say, Blanck Mass. Instead, this is a clean and familiar sound with recognisable Boards Of Canada moments. And do I hear a touch of Plaid amid the delays and shuffles of ‘Wild Flowers’? But with the synthesisers more fully to the fore than ever before, you may yearn for the real world feel of the Bears’ earlier work. There was something raw and more believable about the 2010 post-rock leanings of ‘Colours At The Back Of My Mind’ or the choir funk of ‘Dolls’. Incidentally, there is a choir here (‘Vanishing Downstream’), but it’s so distant and processed they could be singing from Pluto. Such exactitude of production may contribute to a lack of unbridled energy, especially in the second half of the album. For example, ‘Everything Set Ablaze’ starts on a magnificently proggy note, but it seems to lose confidence as its ocean-deep bass gives way to thin strings.
But here’s a thing. These are small criticisms. I made the mistake when first listening to ‘Advancement’ of having my player on shuffle. The curse of the modern listener. Yet on my first listen to its sub-40 minutes in the correct order, an airlock in my mind hissed open. This is an album designed for one sitting, start to finish, with recurring motifs dipping in and out in the order the Bears intended. There are beginnings, middles and ends, and if you’re not listening to this on headphones, you’ll be missing a lot of spit-polished detail.
I can’t get enough of their colossal final track ‘Separate From The Arc’ in which tribal drums crescendo into a stadium-sized wig-out that will have you both air-guitaring and air-synthing, one in each hand. At last, some real Solar energy. This is no nature documentary: it’s an enjoyable 1970s sci-fi action romp. I just wonder where they put the volcano.