Solex: The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock

[3 November 2004]

By Zeth Lundy

You will find that your new copy of The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock, the sophomore effort from Amsterdam’s Elisabeth Esselink, aka Solex, contains at least one (1) of the following:

  • timpani
  • burping, froggy synths
  • grumbling stand-up bass
  • a man whose voice is manipulated to sound like Barry White after a bottle of Quaaludes
  • a man whose voice is manipulated to sound like a perverted Big Bopper, spying through a knothole, also on Quaaludes
  • R2D2 speak
  • clavinet detuned to oblivion
  • car horn played like it’s a record on a turntable
  • retching disguised as beatboxing (or vice versa)
  • various guitars (including scrunched guitar, chicken funk splat guitar, scrambled egg guitar, and spaghetti western guitar)

These varied ingredients are an integral part of Solex’s genetic makeup. They will appear suddenly, in spots where they are needed and others where they are not, and often without warning. (Some, like the manipulated male voices, will appear far too often; if it feels gimmicky, that’s probably because it is.) Solex is a project that receives its very lifeblood from the scissoring, scotch taping, and stitching of these seemingly incompatible pieces. This process should not be confused with songcraft, even if it occasionally sounds like Suzanne Vega dueling with the Avalanches. Think of this record as an attempt to fuse the jagged ridges of music concrète’s broken bones.

Better yet, imagine that The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock is comprised of complex mathematical equations that have no logical solution. Each song has grounded identifiers (live drums, guitar, Esselink’s pixie vocals) that stop and start, are broken down and reassembled, disfigured to subvert their origins and become non-linear. This Solex-patented method is what creates the bumper-dented horn funk of “Yadda Yadda Yadda No. 1”, the Soul Coughing-in-reverse “The Boxer”, the primordial stomp of “Hot Diggitydog Run Run Run”, the jaunty sidewinder “Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like an Egyptian”, and the stoned Beastie Boys vamp “My B-Sides Rock Your World”. You’ve probably noticed that Solex’s irreverence is reflected within the song titles, which are actually funnier than the songs themselves.

Warning: Solex does not write orthodox songs or function as an acceptable DJ for your next house party. The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock falls somewhere in between the two, a mash-up of thick, freaky beats and horn-rimmed bedroom indie rock. Esselink coats her own vocals in crude reverbs and delays, often shunned to the back of the mix; when the words are intelligible, they won’t necessarily strike one as significant. It should come as no surprise that the lyrical element isn’t “successful” in terms of standard practices. Solex is, first and foremost, a vehicle for audio experimentation. Each track is solely concerned with how its sounds are attracted and repelled by one another. It would take a miracle to turn The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock into a collection of conventional songs; but Solex isn’t looking for a miracle.

Instead, Solex plays its own game of trial-and-error, like a chemist mixing liquids in test tubes. Sometimes something is built from nothing; other times, nothing is built from many things. Sometimes the laboratory bred concoction smolders with invention; other times, it just explodes from incompatibility. Whether or not Solex is for you depends on your tolerance for an always fluctuating ratio of failure and success.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/solex-laughing/