Three years after the release of their sophomore LP Supermigration, the Wicklow based electronic duo comprised of John Kowalski and Rian Trench return with their most ambitious release to date. Advancement is densely layered throughout, with found sounds and samples adding deep textures while providing an organic backdrop for the studio instruments. Visually, the band has reaffirmed its long time collaborative relationship with American visual artist Michael Robinson, who as well as creating the album cover art, has also created two films as partner pieces to the music in a similar vein to his work on Supermigration.
Beginning with a short introductory track made up of reverse samples, white noise and Solar Bears’ trademark warbling synths, the sonic palette immediately seems a step up from their previous releases. Thematically there is a dark undercurrent running through the album that was absent in earlier releases, ominously established in the opening bars of ‘Man Plus’, as a gritty bass synth sets the pulse for a heavily processed industrial beat that joins in half way and grows to a climax before an abrupt ending that leaves you wanting more. Luckily there’s no shortage of “big” tracks on this album. ‘Age: Atomic’ again begins with a moody ambience before portamento arpeggios usher in an epic chord progression that seems evocative of a dystopian post-apocalyptic landscape.
Throughout the album, samples and found sounds from the natural world, including elements of wildlife, volcanic movements, and indigenous instrumentation are continually deconstructed through heavy processing, something that Solar Bears have noted in the album’s press release as mirroring the current decay of the natural world. This sense of foreboding that straddles much of the album is at times counterbalanced by powerful moments of hopefulness, like during the album’s centrepiece ‘Scale’, when its monumental harmonic progression shifts emphasis and tone towards grander and more universal themes suggestive of the regenerative power of the natural world.
‘Wild Flowers’ carries similarly positive tones, with its Boards of Canada-esque detuning synth stabs and warbling leads conveying the track’s title allusion of natural growth. After slowly teasing out a melody during the first minute and a half, ’Gravity Calling’ builds to a triumphant climax in what could easily be the soundtrack to a 70s sci-fi flick, as a solid beat and robust bass line allow space for shimmering melodic synth lines to float above.
The longest two tracks come at the end of the album with the slow burning ‘Longer Life’ dropping the tempo before ‘Separate from the Arc’ provides a fitting denouement to the LP as live drums and guitar are joined by layers of arpeggiated synths, pads and sitars that raise to a final crescendo in the most rock influenced number on the release. Solar Bears’ most mature and proficient release to date.