Review Summary: Two halves don’t make a whole, but it can make a damn fine patchwork.
Dynamics have served artists for a long time as a means to transition from one thing to another; to flesh out a narrative, to add diversity, to stave off listener boredom from repetitive themes. Typically it exists as a means to an end, but particularly in the realms of ambient and electronica, sometimes the dynamics are
the music. Memorable melodies and motifs take a back seat, while the artist concerns himself with how a passage contributes to the journey, rather than how it adds to the score. It’s a stylistic shift that gains more traction as the musical landscape broadens, where an album requires a degree of individuality to stand out from the masses. Even if it treads the same ground as its predecessors, so long as it has a unique personality, success is possible. Magnus Birgersson (Solar Fields) embraces this ethic - he isn’t pushing boundaries and mapping new lands here, but he is tracing a unique trajectory through thoroughly charted waters, and that light step off the beaten path lends an individuality to Movements
that flourishes on repeated listens.
Maybe I’m finding substance in nothing. Movements
was the first album of its kind that I listened to, so I analysed it with an intensity rarely offered to new releases these days. Every skittering melody, every scintillating synth, every minor shift in atmosphere – they entranced me. Opening track ‘Sol’ weaves in mesmerizing ways, giving rise to lush arpeggios that are buried almost as swiftly as they appear, while featuring the most diverse array of instruments and styles on the album. It entices the listener, which makes it that much more frustrating when the album inexplicably pushes you back to arm’s length and holds you there. The tracks following the introduction feel lethargic, stripping themselves back musically but leaving themselves too thin in the process. There’s still plenty to talk about, the driving low end and oppressive electronic ripples in ‘Discovering’, the bubbly synths in ‘Sky Trees’ that contradict everything before it, the alternating light/dark aesthetics of ‘Dust’. Several tracks similarly flirt with fantastic musical concepts, but never really capture the magic of the opener. It’s not until the 7th track that Birgersson really hits his stride again, bouncing tracks off the walls where every slight change in angle send the track somewhere new – a building wash of white noise over the main melody forcing you to come down from the tracks heights, or a simple repeating lead that drifts between eerie, upbeat and menacing by slowly changing the backbone that supports it. It’s the work of an artist who really understands how to push a musical concept to its limit, and he succeeds time and time again on the tail end of Movements
Maybe Birgersson felt these simpler tracks were necessary to lay the groundwork for his masterworks. It feels as though half of the album was made as jigsaw pieces, while the other half consists of small pictures that don’t require other pieces. The two don’t meld, and it’s a shame the album is constructed the way that it is because some of these tracks are the very best in the business. All albums have specific strengths and weaknesses, and it feels strange to recommend listening in partial bursts, but that’s undoubtedly the best way to enjoy this work. One portion manages a spacey consistency that’s rarely punctured by abrupt shifts of momentum, while another slice will arrest your attention, dragging you away from whatever activities you’re trying to enjoy simultaneously. While this split personality can make full playthroughs hard, it also gives it a surprisingly diverse situational appeal, which is likely the reason I find myself still coming back to it after all these years. To call Movements
quaint would be a disservice, but it is extremely unassuming, asking no more than you are willing to give. It’s an album that invites the studious, being understandably overlooked by the casual listener, but having a long-lasting appeal for those willing to explore the depths.