Solar - 2003 Dark Places

ALBUM: Dark Places
LABEL: Verglas
YEAR: 2003

LINEUP: Robert Sowden - vocals & guitars * Laurence Jarvis - bass * Simon Bell - drums

Guests: John Mitchell - guitar * Ian Mundwyler - guitar * Fumio Takaki - guitar * Gavin Wright - saxophone * Rick Smith - percussion * Luke Steele - cello * Patrick Darlington - keyboards * Zarand Schuller - hurdy gurdy

TRACK LISTING: Cheap Thrill * 02 Psycho * 03 Atrophy * 04 In A Dark Place * 05 Caving In * 06 Mother Of Mother * 07 She Knows * 08 Odyssey (in 'a' major) * 09 Untouchable * 10 Arizona Dream (Letter To Valou) * 11 Twice As Bright As The Sun


Radiohead. No matter how much they (and the mainstream music press) try and convince you they're the pinnacle of alternative rock coolness, don't believe 'Em. The fact is, since Radiohead began their journey into the experimental wilderness, beginning with their third album, the critically lauded 'OK Computer', they've been a progressive rock band.

There, I've said it. I wonder when they'll admit it themselves? Then, of course, there's the other critically acclaimed English rock band Muse. Carefully structured melodies (for that, read 'riffs and notes before atmosphere') and powerful and emotive vocal performances (re: 'whiny and shrill'). So, what has this got to do with anything, least of all, us here at Glory Daze?

Firstly, Radiohead and Muse were two of the bands Solar have been favourably compared with. I find that worrying. While I've enjoyed some of Radiohead's past efforts, they lost me as a fan with the overly complex 'Kid A' and have done little to bring me back into the fold since.

As for Muse, don't get me started. If I wrote what I really wanted about them, I'm sure their frontman Matt Bellamy would send the boys round to break my legs. Secondly, Solar is the new 'side project' from Arena vocalist Rob Sowden, so we felt it only fair to give it the once over.

The heavier parts of the album do, I suppose, have a slightly Muse-ish quality about them, but I feel you should all know they're a little softer and Rob Sowden's vocals are not even close to being as torture inducing as those on your average Muse outing (though neither do they remind me much of his Arena vocal sound either), but that's where the comparisons and similarities should end. To my ears, Solar sound like their own band.

The Songs

The opening cut offers up a solid combination of rocky guitars and atmospherics. The band play solidly, but a lack of an obvious hook makes this one of the weaker tracks in my opinion.

'Psycho' works better for me, thanks to a little more warmth in the bass department, a better vocal performance and slight shift toward a more traditional prog-metal ballady feel on the verse, coupled with a jangly riff.

'Atrophy' (hmm, a song about muscles, not very often you get those) gets the balance just right. It has a similar quality to 'Psycho', but, in my opinion, has a much stronger arrangement, partly thanks to one of Sowden's best performances.

'Caving In' follows in a similar suit, but avoids musical repetition on previous songs by featuring a sax solo and musical colouring from an understated cello part. Again, it's hard to find fault with Sowden's vocals and it seems by this point of the album, the band have found their stride.

After a lengthy intro with a trippy, slight Eastern feel, 'Mother Of Mother' is another of Solar's more atmospheric songs. For the most part it's musically sparse, yet still manages to pull the listener in. Its Eastern qualities are far more in keeping with The Tea Party and The Doors rather than the usual Led Zeppelin influence which most bands turn to. Hopefully that'll give you some idea of the song's main groove. For me, it's another of the stand-out tracks, I think those of you who decide to check out this CD should find this track greets you well also.

Atmosphere is the key (once again) with parts of 'Odyssey In A Major'. During the verses, that atmospheric feel comes in part from some simple keyboard chords. There definitely aren't enough keyboards on this album. The track offers another of Sowden's better performances, and pulling in at over nine minutes, it should satisfy those of you who like things on an epic scale. Although not exactly sing-along, it has a chorus too, so with 'Atrophy' and 'Mother Of Mother', it gets my vote.

The intro to 'Untouchable' has an uplifting quality, which is a much needed antidote to some of the more heavy-going aspects of the Solar sound. The stabbing keys are great (I'm always a sucker for those). I initially thought once the vocals came in, the mood would change completely, but it manages to hold together well. The drums drop out, leaving the voice, keys and an echoing guitar. Very nice indeed. After Rob finishes his vocal spot, the drums creep back in and the band reprise the tune from the intro. It might not sound like there's much there to hold people's attentions, especially for a seven minute track, but you'll have to trust me when I say it works.

'Twice As Bright As The Sun' also conjures up some nice atmospheres during the quiet moments, a little Floydy here, maybe a little Porcupine Tree there again capturing something quite Solar. I can't say the couple of heavier parts during the song spoil it for me, but I get the feeling it may have worked better without them.

In Summary

I'm going to be completely honest (as usual), I played this CD a couple of times and was expecting to give it a luke-warm review when the time came, as I only really liked a couple of songs straight off.

After a few more plays, more pieces started to fit together and so on. So I'll give you my best advice, if you decide to check out Solar, allow them plenty of time to grab your attention.

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