Solar Bears She Was Coloured In
Reviewed by Javier Blánquez Source: (Playground)
Two interesting news items for enthusiasts of the inner world have coincided in time (within a day or two). One is the decision of the Charity Commission to consider Druidism as a religion in the UK, and not only a pagan practice for a few nuts who still believe that Merlin and King Arthur were historical figures. That is to say, that you yourself—if you are a citizen of Great Britain—can be a Druid in the same way that you can be a Muslim or a Christian (but forget about celebrating solstices freely: the security perimeter around Stonehenge will still be the same). The other news is the release of the first album of Solar Bears, which under its superficial layer of Balearic placidity hides a significant banquet of folk psychedelics and gliding symphony in direct connection with the 70’s Canterbury scene, and with inevitable references, by way of the current cosmic revival, to 80’s new age. Solar Bears, that is to say, Rian Trench and John Kowalski, are Irish (from Dublin and Wicklow, to be more exact) and Druidism being considered a religion in Great Britain shouldn’t affect them in the least, although there’s nothing wrong with it either: there is no more Druidic land than Ireland. This album, excuse the cliché, shouldn’t have a cover with a blue background and a summery female figure broken down like a rainbow, but rather a green background with a girl dressed as a vestal virgin, with braids decorated with flowers and a crown of laurels. “She Was Coloured In” alludes directly to the light, to life outside, in the daylight, in the summer, but it isn’t a summer vacation album. On the contrary, it is an album that seems to want to awaken an ancestral culture and update it according to current times.
To start off, one can’t listen to this debut from the Solar Bears without the second and third albums of Mike Oldfield coming to mind. You can’t hear the beginning of “Hidden Lake” or the development of “Forest of Fountains” without recognising some passages of “Hergest Ridge” (1974) and “Ommadawn” (1975) there: a Celtic influence seeps into the symphonic, on its way to a sunset on Ibiza, but without Oldfield’s instrumental feats. It must be said that this reference isn’t head-on, nor is it persistent, it only occurs at certain moments –within its Balearic approach, the album is varied and not circumscribed solely to progressive folk-rock– but it must be kept in mind, it can always reappear, as it does in the echoing guitars of “Neon Colony” or the views of the sea from a cliff in “Cub”. And not only Oldfield; another even more important influence must also be kept in mind: Boards Of Canada, more how they are in “Geogaddi” than in “Music Has the Right to Children”. Solar Bears capitalise on the limit of the rhetoric of the fuzzy memory of a lost, happy childhood itself —that is to say, childhood itself, which becomes more magical and idealised the more remote it becomes—although they don’t do so with the same emotional intensity. In Boards Of Canada there is even a dark side, a geometric construction of rhythms and a deconstruction of folk that doesn’t occur systematically in Solar Bears: from “Solarization” and “Division”, which sound like the first light of dawn refracting against the surface of an arroyo, they can shift to “Primary Colours at the Back of My Mind”, which has a touch of easy-listening, with its elegant groove for social events.
But this lightness needn’t be surprising. It’s included in the script. Although this is a horizontal, melancholy album, it is also an album that owes a great deal to Soft Machine and other proto-pagan bands of the period and, in more contemporary terms, to Bibio. Its birth isn’t in IDM, but rather in folk—doesn’t “Perpetual Meadow” have something of Pentangle?– and in rock with progressive roots. It doesn’t close in on itself like a riddle, but rather expands through the mental labyrinths of psychedelics, and this is why Solar Bears make such an effort to join that tradition of hypnotic arpeggios gotten from elliptical, primitive synthesisers, the tradition ranging from Harmonia to Oneohtrix Point Never –“Twin Star” and “Crystalline (Be Again)”. And once it leaves the mental amplitude brought about by psychedelics, the duo opens itself up to natural spaces, coasts and prairies, in contributions that are as tender and as 80’s as “Children of the Times” – that funky bass!– or “She Was Coloured In” –strumming that is typical of AOR. It is a notable debut: at times it suffers for trying to cover sounds that are very distant in time, and at other times, it runs the risk of being trapped in a hippie cobweb—but isn’t that the point of the Balearic label? Solar Bears add that prog touch to it, that Druidic singularity that, having heard the results, sounds worth it.
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