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Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason

Solaris


[Bedroom Community; 2011]



By ; February 14, 2012 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

When two of Iceland’s most exciting musicians come together, the reaction should be as big as the noise you’d expect on the record. Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason are two such artists who have gained much plaudits for their past releases; Frost is behind 2009’s near enough sublime By The Throat, which explored fear through a mesh of undulating tones and textures, while Bjarnason’s 2010 debut Processions took the idea of tension in the classical realm and turned it upside-down and inside-out, creating something both devastatingly astounding and innovative. Reading about the collaboration between these two made me excited enough to fall off my seat; Processions was a personal favourite of mine from its release year, while By The Throat crept up on me during the same year, making me (once again) realise that there is so much more to the Icelandic music scene than Sigur Rós and Björk.

And yet, here I am, writing this review while listening to the end result, saddened and ultimately let down. For a record that should have been near enough awe-inspiring, Solaris is something almost lifeless and, for a good part of it, just plain old dull. Multiple tracks go from a studied near-silence to vaguely haunting string sections and then back again to a low droning hush, perhaps stumbling upon a brief piano section here and there on its way. If one were not to take into the account the occasional crescendos, that description could very well be used to describe Solaris in a nutshell. But even those moments of contrasting noise don’t bring that much tension, as they are often exceptionally brief and could well be used for all those fake scare moments in horror films, when a character approaches and opens a door slowly only to find that there’s absolutely nothing in the room.

But I have to be fair, and by doing so I will say that the music is easy to imagine as an apt and fitting soundtrack to the 1972 film of the same name which Frost and Bjarnason came together to re-score. And even though I haven’t seen the film, I can imagine it working very well for psychological drama set in space with its blank yet claustrophobic feel and eerie mood setting. Yet, I can also imagine watching the film with this soundtrack and thinking it rather dull.

And that’s the problem here, I suppose: Solaris works only as a soundtrack, but doesn’t come off as particularly interesting one. Apart from those moments when the music sounds like it could potentially come out of your speakers (“Reyja,” “Unbreakable Silence”), it’s exceptionally easy for Solaris to just become background music. Consequently, there’s nothing challenging about the music that feels like it would reward intent and close listening – a trait that made both Processions and By The Throat lasting records.

The fact is a collaboration like this had so much potential, but the end result showcases none of the exciting traits about either artist. Quivering crescendos, like those on “We Don’t Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors” and “Cruel Miracles,” that sound like they been snapped up in an instant by Bjarnason are brief and nearly always disperse into nothing, while any dramatic drones or atmospherics from Frost’s end of the spectrum are hidden somewhere at the bottom of the tracks to be forgotten or just not heard. When they are the main thread of a single track, they are uninteresting and uninspiring (“Simulacra I,” “Hydrogen Sulfide”). These are two highly gifted artists who could do so much more together; I just hope they hook up again and create something that can be placed at the other end of the spectrum – something exciting and engrossing to listen to.


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