Published Mar 16, 2016After three releases on the influential Planet Mu label, Irish duo John Kowalski and Rian Trench (known collectively as Solar Bears) deliver their third LP, Advancement on London-based Sunday Best.
Known for their psychedelic leanings, the band sound suitably analog-focused here, with plenty of effects washes and spaced-out soundscapes suggestive of a more organic Boards of Canada. There is a studied, cinematic feel to many of the tracks here: advance single "Man Plus" flirts with John Carpenter-esque brooding, and later things get beautifully galactic on "Persona," which conjures a glistening spacecraft docking slowly, elegantly against a star-swept abyss. Late album highlight "Gravity Calling" is a solemn head-bobber sporting a tempo a few notches above the rest, a welcome reprieve from the sometimes-plodding movement of the rest of the album.
There are a couple of late-album missteps: "Longer Life" is a boring trudge that sounds scooped from the cutting-room floor of Daft Punk's Tron soundtrack, and "Everything Set Ablaze" is frankly uninspired, a spacey synth vamp that (perhaps in a bid to achieve some kind of Space Odyssey-esque majesty), suddenly morphs into an orchestral string arrangement for its final moments; whatever is going on here conceptually, it's pulled off haphazardly.
That said, the good easily outweighs the bad on Advancement, and at its best, it's excellent. The pair have a knack for dynamism that keeps things interesting, and their production style has a compelling crunchiness to it that manages to sound modern without laying on the sheen. (Sunday Best Recordings)