Solar Bears: Advancement
Sunday Best

To their credit, the music Irish lads John Kowalski and Rian Trench present on Solar Bears' third album (and follow-up to the Planet Mu release Supermigration) sounds like little else but itself. Advancement is hardly sui generis—no recording is—but one doesn't spend the entire time name-checking influences whilst listening to it. If there is one connection that emerges in a few spots, it's Boards of Canada, though Solar Bears is certainly not the first act to have seen its music affected by the Warp outfit.

A year in the making, Advancement blends the crate-digging talents of Kowalski with Trench's production zeal. Woven into the eleven-track, thirty-nine-minute set are samples of heavily processed indigenous instruments, the intent being to reflect the ongoing decay of the natural world and the cosmic cycles of destruction and rejuvenation (themes clearly intimated by song titles such as “Everything Set Ablaze” and “Vanishing Downstream” as well as the apocalyptic cover image). That being said, you'll have to work extra hard to separate such elements from the whole when the duo works so much detail into the productions. Throughout the album, woozy synthesizer melodies resound within multi-layered settings pitched somewhere between electronic soundscapes and instrumental songs.

If the group's first releases ranged between krautrock, library music, and psychedelic electronica, it's the latter that comes to the fore most on Advancement. That particular vibe is instated the moment “Everything Set Right” inaugurates the recording with a flood of trippy ambient sound, after which “Man Plus” opens up the album's soundworld with a somewhat foreboding panorama of heavy beat propulsion and dense atmospherics.

The whirr-and-click of “Scale” lodges it firmly within the electronica tradition, even if its crushing thunder calls to mind a stadium teeming with headbangers. Yet as epic in tone as Advancement generally is (“Gravity Calling” and the volcanic closer “Separate From The Arc” two of many examples), the intensity is leavened in places by a gentle moment or two. Incidentally, that aforementioned Boards of Canada echo surfaces during “Age : Atomic” by way of the track's warbly analog synth work and downtempo pulse; yet even when such a similarity presents itself, Solar Bears' music doesn't become any less engaging as a result.

March 2016