Review Summary: What lurks beneath the depths?
The popularity of media that induces unease in the consumer is a strange phenomenon. Many go out of their way to consume these; video games like Amnesia, series like Friday 13th, musicians like Lustmord and Akira Yamaoka, all present their respective media with a menacing aesthetic that horror-lovers crave. Solens Arc
conveys itself in a similar manner. A tangible feeling of uncertainty and fear pervades the albums runtime, and this invokes surprisingly vivid imagery for such a relaxed music style. It’s like you can’t quite see into the darkest street corners, or the creatures lurking just deep enough to avoid sighting. David Letellier manages to maintain this atmosphere from start to finish, and this suspension of tension allows Solens Arc
to stand out as unique and engaging.
Many albums that are this heavily reliant on atmosphere will not have the strict over-arching structure that is employed here, which in this case acts as both a boon and a detriment. The release is separated into 4 distinct arcs, consisting of 3 songs each, and these arcs adhere to a very specific style in order to contribute to the albums flow. We open with the trepidatious first arc, beginning with ‘Serendipity March’. After spending a minute on meandering ambience, we are treated to the first inklings of Kangding Ray’s sound; with rumbling static and a breathy vocal sample that lurk behind a heaving bass line, the track barrels forward, weaving in moments of abrupt silence that last just long enough to discomfort the listener before diving back into the deep end. Segueing into ‘Evento’, we get a driving percussive backdrop rise to the surface from the loose ambience of the interlude track. Once this beat has become the focal point, disharmonic synths weave in and out of view, adding a healthy dose of panic to the track. While never coming to a climax, it sets the first arcs pattern of lightly stepping around your peripherals and jumping from one idea to the next, and this unpredictability makes the first arc a definite standout.
The second arc is far simpler, with fewer ideas floating around and a greater commitment to fleshing them out. ‘Blank Empire’ follows a similar pattern to the third track, but has interludes on both sides to help ease the listener in and out of the centrepiece. This makes it a more singularly satisfying experience than the songs prior, but there’s just not enough substance here to warrant a twelve minute arc. The third arc is far more distant, with the bass kicks feeling muted, synths whirring around with no direction and a general feeling of detachment emanating from the music. Even ‘Amber Decay’s driving beat has no impact when following the crisper kicks and melodies found in the preceding two arcs. The final arc is the first time the music truly loses form and is given space to flow freely, untethered by the restraints that hold back the rest of the album. With no discernible structure, the music ebbs and flows through its movements and loops with more grace than the rest of the album, a format which brings out the best in Kangding Ray’s sound and helps make this arc the most engrossing of all.
While the strict structure and almost forced progression don’t suit his musical style perfectly, Letellier has managed to craft an enjoyable album with a steady hand. The cohesiveness gives the album definite purpose and direction that would have been lost with the addition of unpredictability, and this contributes to the albums replayability. There’s enough negative space here to make it slide into the background comfortably, but enough depth to avoid disappointing a careful listener. There are moments of true brilliance hiding in amongst all the layers, but Solens Arc
doesn’t quite manage to fit the pieces together. Despite these niggling flaws, it is a captivating ride from start to finish, traversing several different styles of IDM and techno to create one of the better electronic albums 2014 has to offer.