Solvent: Elevators & Oscillators

Following last year's well-received Apples & Synthesizers, Solvent (Jason Amm) returns with Elevators & Oscillators, a hodgepodge that pairs new material with seven remixes, two new (from JDSY and Alter Ego, with the latter's piece also appearing on Solvent's Think Like Us 12-inch) and the rest culled from 2004's twin Radio Ga Ga EPs. Clearly there's some serious recycling at work, and Solvent completists who already own the latter discs may grumble over reacquiring the material for five new songs. And even those who don't possess the EPs may be less enthralled by the prospect of three variations each of “My Radio” and “For You” instead of an entire album of new material.

“My Radio” originally appeared on Ghostly's Tangent 2002: Disco Nouveau comp and at the time startled for including vocals (albeit vocoder-treated), a sound absent on Solvent's three earlier albums. It's less an homage to radio than a lament for what it's become, as Solvent yearns for an era when “robot-disco marathons” and “synthetic claps” filled the airwaves. Yet while “My Radio” and “For You” are beautiful songs, do the remixes sustain listening interest? Generally, they do, especially when the originals are radically transformed by Legowelt (who gives “My Radio” a grinding, goth-electro makeover by adding his own robotic, Wall Of Voodoo-styled vocals) and Schneider TM (whose “Mustang” remake of “My Radio” trades its analog dimension for an indie-rock mix of twanging guitars and natural vocals). Similarly, Ghostly newcomer JDSY's bubbling dance version of “For You” oozes an almost Latin feel, while Isan's becomes a paradisiacal oasis of soft glimmerings and tactile clicks. Even better is Alter Ego's almost electro-punk handling of “Think Like Us” which turns the animated punch of the original into a pounding plodder.

The five new songs uphold the Solvent standard. Sounding much like the Morr outing Solvent City, the instrumental “Devices and Strategies,” for example, opts for squelchier smears, percussion flurries, and sparkling synth glistens. Strongest of all, though, is the gorgeous “Wish” which lays bare the secret of Solvent's appeal: Amm's gift for infusing his synth-pop sound with lush, romantic melodies. Working from a limited synthetic palette, he transcends such self-imposed constraints with affecting compositional permutations of varying mood and character. Even so, it must be conceded that, while Ghostly might be attempting to capitalize on the momentum generated by Apples & Synthesizers with the new collection, that momentum is dissipated somewhat by Elevators & Oscillators' odds'n'sods makeup.

April 2005