For years, the Posies were one of the most consistent bands in the world. They weren’t always the best band in the world, save for the year when Frosting on the Beater came out and every good fan of power-pop rightly lost their mind over how staggeringly brilliant that album was. Still, you could always count on how Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow were going to sound. The two are students of pop, through and through, and their work always reflected that. Sometimes, though, consistency isn’t enough, and the Posies seem to have realized this. Further, given that Auer and Stringfellow are plenty busy with other projects, one would almost expect them to come back to the Posies with the desire to make something that sounds nothing like the Posies. With Solid States, they have done just that, for better and for worse.
If Solid States has any clear predecessor in the Posies’ discography, it is in their shambling, charming debut Failure. But where that album found Auer and Stringfellow facing the basic challenges of being a band and making records, Solid States finds the pair deliberately challenging themselves, swapping instruments and trying their hand at every style under the sun. Opener “We R Power” works as a twisted meld of rock and electronica, with keyboards and subtle vocal effects elevating a song that toes a line between unsettling and just plain repetitive. “Unlikely Places” feels like a revisit to the insular world of Failure with the benefit of hindsight and experience, while “Titanic” is a convincing stab at modern radio pop/rock.
For the most part, this kitchen sink approach works. On first listen, Solid States is genuinely surprising and thrilling. Auer and Stringfellow acclimate themselves well to the experimental nature of their project, relying on their natural songwriting skills to ground some of the more fanciful arrangements. Otherwise, they let their ambitions run wild, crafting bedroom pop songs and lush, baroque rock in equal measure. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t lend itself to making something cohesive, and Solid States often feels like a loose collection of individual parts rather than one whole piece of music. Moments like the delicate piano-driven ballad “The Sound of Clouds” don’t quite fit in with any mood or theme that the album is trying to convey; they just sit there, almost as if they were close to being cut but survived at the last minute. What’s more, while some of the band’s stabs at modernity showcase a surprisingly deft touch, others—namely the electro-pop curio “The Definition”—feel forced.
Despite its flaws, Solid States is the sort of album that no one would have expected a band like the Posies to make. With their career and legacy, it would have been very easy to make Frosting on the Beater, Part 2 without any real thought. Instead, Auer and Stringfellow continue to challenge themselves, using the freedom history has granted them to try out new sounds and ideas that younger artists would be too timid to even go near. In that sense, Solid States is an admirable piece of work, and it happens to have several killer pop songs to boot. After all, once everything is said and done, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow are still The Posies. That’s what they do.