Solar Bears’ latest covers a wide pastiche of instrumental styles, with opener “Stasis” coming across like the best echoes of Delerium, Enigma, Robert Miles, and even a faint touch of Enya thrown in a blender. It’s all discordant, echo-ambience until “Cosmic Runner” gets going. Their penchant for basic hip hop beats behind the music continues here – and it serves as an evocative, fun start to the disc. From a mix of reverb-drenched guitar lines pouring over the synth background in a chaotic, but well-read mix, the duo does a fine job conjuring images fitting the song’s title. Here they succeed where too much other instrumental music falters – vocal-free songs that have a title, but a title that seems too arbitrary or just picked with little thought as to whether it resembles the song at all. Solar Bears neatly avoid this trap. Oddly enough, following this is “Alpha People”, which sounds like early ‘80s new wave (think Depeche Mode done with New Order-like stuttering synth beats) with a vocal that again is almost Enya, maybe a little bit Nina Persson (of Cardigans fame), but not quite a photocopy of either.
The status quo comes back around with “Love Is All”, which brings a very “quiet Sunday afternoon in a grassy meadow having a picnic” vibe to it. The textures are more reserved, but the spaced-out feel is still alive and well, and it makes for a well-done track. The focus on this album continues to shift throughout, as tracks like “Happiness Is a Warm Spacestation” (takeoff on “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, anyone?)—the cool-blue-evening mellow is cast aside for insistent, pulsating grooves. Going back to the strength of title-fits-song aspect once more, this track could almost play like the backdrop of something straight out of science fiction, perhaps backing music for an enthusiastically-voiced ad for the new vacation spot at the other end of the galaxy. Or perhaps just a fine album made to sit back and watch the stars fly by to. Stepping back to reality a second, it is worth nothing even though this track is one of the longest on the disc, it is still one of the best and doesn’t quite overstay its welcome, but manages to paint the picture in just the right amount of time.
Another strong effort is “A Sky Darkly” which seems lifted from the soundtrack of a retro-futuristic spy thriller that hasn’t been made yet. It begs to be used as the backdrop of a chase scene, all frantic, pulsing sound and fury that never lets up from beginning to end. The album comes to a more relaxed and laid-back closing with “Rainbow Collision”, which is an otherwise pleasant track marred by the occasional use of fast-forward-tone sound effects that tend to overshadow the otherwise ethereal, pleasant tone the music sets. What keeps this album from being amazing is the style crisis at hand. Solar Bears never sound like they’re blatantly ripping anyone off, but there are too many echoes of other band’s sounds floating around in the mix to make it sound truly like something that is theirs and theirs alone.
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// Notes from the Road
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