Solex: Solex Ahoy! The Sound Map of the Netherlands

Solex does her best and most intriguing album so far.
Seriés Aphōnos

For this release Solex sailed through the Netherlands and invited guests in each of the 12 provinces to board her boat and play music. The musicians improvised to a loop they could hear in headphones, ensuring they played in the same key, but were unable to hear what anyone else was playing. Later, Elisabeth Esselink (aka Solex) erased the loop and edited the improvisations to form the songs which make up Solex Ahoy! The Sound Map of the Netherlands.

This may be Solex’s most elaborate concept and biggest collaboration to date, but the thrust, twang, rhythm, swing, sway, and a deft sense of humor, which are the core dynamics of her music, remain intact. These elements have been evident since her 1998 debut, Solex Vs.The Hitmeister, unleashed songs constructed largely from bits and pieces from all the items she was having trouble selling in her record store. The resulting collage of low-key electronics and punchy samples found favor with John Peel, and between 1998 and 2002 Solex recorded several sessions for his legendary radio program.

Over the years Solex has remained distinctive throughout various experiments and collaborations. In 1999, she created the album Pick Up from dozens of secretly recorded samples from live shows in Amsterdam. Her primary technique were honed and repeated with Low Kick and Hard Bop (2001) and The Laughing Stock of Indie Rock (2004) with results that were sometimes humorous but always spirited and crunchy. Solex has also done a session In The Fishtank, and her recent long-distance collaboration with John Spencer and Christina was a consistently funky, groovy, rocking and slippery collage.

Sound Map may be Esselink’s grandest project in scale, complexity, and organization, but, as usual, she makes it sound organic, simple, and wholly unpretentious. She had a boat, The Nenuphar, on which she wanted to spend more time, so decided to use it in her creative process. The piece “Nood-Holland” features fierce and restrained playing in equal measure, as rhythms swing and crash along, taking on board clicks of machinery, cello, guitar, and sax. Waves of guitar slap back and forth against an organ on “Gronigen”, and Solex generally keeps up a lively pace through this album, even as she tacks back and forth between some quieter moments, greasy blues, shuffle beats, and sporadic verbal statements which I believe are related to the locations.

To give some idea of the range of instrumentation on these tracks, let me say that the low-key yet marvelous “Zeeland” is a slower-paced yet intense piece on which Solex backs the serious tone of the male spoken voice with a plaintive guitar, dobro, mandolin, trumpet, and the occasional screech of gulls. “Overijssel” is brisk and lively with mad slabs of guitar complementing the spluttered outbursts of a child (perhaps the voice of Esselink’s daughter) chirping excitedly into the proceedings. “Limburg” is very slinky indeed as is Noord-Brabant with train-whistle harmonica, warm, accordion, crisp guitar twang, mocking gulls, and quasi-gospel chanting. The tin whistle, or flute, on “Utrecht” brings in an echo of an old tune Tom Horn and combines well with what sounds as if it is a great combination of diggerido, jaw’s harp, and accordion. Actually, all instruments and participants are identified, along with some amusing travel notes. As usual, with Solex, no matter the musical elements or the space given to other participants, all is naturally and gracefully made subservient to the clarity of her creative vision.

RATING 8 / 10