When did breathless, delicate and/or fragile female vocals find their way into musical society? I can’t pinpoint it exactly, but my initial thought is that Iceland are to blame. And when I think of Iceland and this style of singing, my finger points straight to Kristín Anna Valtýsdóttir (aka Kría Brekkan) and her eternally unadulterated coo, which led múm to their gradual demise (among other things). But she wasn’t the only guilty culprit; even Björk had an opposite side to her most full on emotionally sung notes. Now, when a female vocalist near enough whispers into the microphone, no one bats an eyelid.
Enter Canadian duo SolarSolar, fronted by the ghostly and thin looking Angela Drysdale. Her singing style hones in on all this breathless cooing and whispering, sounding like a constantly quiet version of Beth Gibbons without any relatable or recognizable feeling in her voice. Behind her vocals are washes of unobtrusive synths and piano (provided by other band member Dan Drysdale) which tend to just sit there and exist as a backdrop for Angela’s vocals. When she sings “we used to do this just for fun” on “I Can’t Find You,” it rings true; they sound devoid of emotion, and any sort of enjoyment had in recording their debut album Pilot is completely absent.
At first this is fine; the album begins with its title track, carefully drifting in icy electric guitar and light calming drones. It’s an apt introduction and seems to capture the “sound” the pair are aiming for: something nearly ambient and relaxing, but with a just a hint of shaded ambiguity that can draw you in if you’re curious enough. The next few tracks are equally solid: “Barely Noticing” throws in flashes of sunlight during its chorus, as the surrounding verses sound like the ice is melting, while “Walking Like Children” swaggers innocently and almost hypnotically, climaxing to a series of multi-tracked keyboard horns and vocal lines.
From there though, it’s hard to keep your attention fixed as the music fades out of your consciousness and drifts aimlessly for at least twenty minutes. And while it’s easy to say the overall product is the culprit, I can’t help but feel Angela’s vocals are more to blame. It really doesn’t help that she can’t sell any line she sings, making her lyrics eternally forgettable and uninteresting. On “My Favourite Sound” she sounds like she’s singing, “Chess / it’s not my favourite sound,” which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. She could be saying “Jess” instead of “Chess” but it’s really not worth thinking about; I really couldn’t care less. What frustrates me more about the song is that it’s near enough identical to the fourth track “Home.” It’s one thing to be uninteresting; it’s another to be uninteresting in exactly the same way twice in the space of ten minutes.
Don’t get me wrong, this genre of music is welcome to a place on the musical spectrum, but at least when múm had Brekkan fronting the majority of the songs on an album (Summer Make Good), they were relatively interesting sounding (musically and atmospherically, at least) and I admire them for trying to capture a particular mood. But SolarSolar, unfortunately, are just plain old boring. Those flashes of sunlight I mentioned earlier on “Barely Noticing” are the loudest the band get, and is the only moment when you’re likely to prick your ears and feel you might want to listen. And that happens on the second track, from which nothing exciting happens thereafter.
That’s not entirely true though, as in manner that seemingly pointless bands often do, SolarSolar end with something that sounds that bit different, making you want to reconsider your harsh assessments. On Pilot, it begins with the penultimate track “You Haunt My Day” which utilizes a brightly toned and playful synth sound, which leads onto the more exciting “My Sailboat” which, again, makes use a different texture to capture your attention. There’s potential stuck somewhere between the occasional swells of the jittery and skewed arcade synths, pointing towards something that could be exciting. But that’s just it; instead of actually hitting on that sound and using that potential, the duo go nowhere with it and instead just hint at it. “Whatever happens we’ll keep floating on,” sings Angela, which, again seems to ring true. Even if the surrounding waters get a bit choppy, I doubt SolarSolar will act out and shout for help. The most you’ll ever hear from them is a whisper.