Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Solar Fields - Movements (Original TC Review)

Ultimae Records: 2009

(2014 Update:
I went on a bit about ratings systems and the curves by which music gets graded upon, my attempt at justifying why I scored
Movements a 'mere' 8/10 for TranceCritic. Of course, my lack of ratings here renders such thoughts moot, and was honestly not worth the words spent typing it up anyway. While some readers may be curious why critics rate things the way they do, there's no ironclad rule behind it, most just going with gut feelings at the time they have to write their review up. If anything, it adds pointless content as a writer is distracted and even forced into validating why they settled on that particular score, and not something a smidge higher or lower. These days, I find it better just talking about the music at hand, how it came to be, and its lasting influences. The relative quality of a release should come through within the words themselves, no fallback on a hard rating required.

That said, I definitely under-rated
Movements. Truth is I was still treading the shores of Ultimae's catalog, and having already been blown away by their output, I subconsciously thought they'd always hit the amazing highs that initially lured me in. Turns out they're human after all, but hey, I've yet to encounter anything from them that's 'just okay' either. This one, though, definitely comes with high recommendation, even half-a-decade on.)


IN BRIEF: Caravan of emotions.

The trouble with being so consistently good at what you do is that the level of expectation only ever goes up. Musicians in particular are held to this impossible barometer, which is frankly ridiculous - creativity can ebb just as much any athlete’s skill, though if one’s passion remains strong, that at least comes through in music. Still, such lofty expectations placed by fans on musicians and their record labels can be detrimental in the long run.

This really wasn’t the fault of Ultimae Records. When a record label seems to only go from strength to strength for half a decade, it will eventually hit that plateau of expectation, after which anything that doesn’t meet them seems inferior to which came before. Make no mistake, 2008 was still a strong year for Ultimae, just… not as impressive as the years prior.

Perhaps it was merely a brief lull for them, as they seemed more intent on promoting fresher talent like Hol Baumann and James Murray that year. For 2009, however, all the label’s big guns have stepped up: Aes Dana, H.U.V.A. Network, and, of course, Solar Fields (Magnus Birgersson), with word on the chill streets now being Ultimae is back in full force. Does this Solar Fields album -Movements- confirm this?

Well, the album is good - there was almost no doubt it wouldn’t be. Yet, compared to prior releases on Ultimae, Movements doesn’t quite reach the same peak. In fact, aside from a few instances, we’re treading familiar paths. Solar Fields paths, Ultimae paths, heck even downtempo paths. This is not a bad thing, just an apparent thing, and drags the score slightly down. After all, music does not exist in a vacuum; it’s continuously graded on a quality curve, and Ultimae artists have been held to an incredibly high curve, of which Movements doesn’t always hit.

More than that, however, is the flow of this album is somewhat… off. Most good albums follow a build-peak-valley-build-climax formula, but Movements is more like climax-valley-climax-valley-climax; in other words, the highs are incredibly high, such that whatever transpires in the interim comes off less compelling. Opener Sol is wonderful - simply beautiful to hear and easily one of the best songs I’ve heard start an album this year - but follow-up Circles Of Motion sounds like an extended ambient interlude. It’s nice enough but a major downturn coming off of Sol, as there’s nothing in the song to match it soon after. Going into mellow territory is fine, just perhaps not in such an abrupt way.

When I say there are numerous climaxes to Movements, I’m not kidding around. On my initial plays, I thought the album was coming to an end no less than three times. Sky Trees, Das Bungalow, and The Road To Nothingness are all riveting songs, any of which being the sort of production most would save for their big finale; yet, here’s Birgersson giving us three of them. It was disconcerting to hear Sky Trees the first couple times, as it felt way too soon for the finish of an album. Das Bungalow, on the other hand, seemed more logically placed, though still early considering Birgersson uses the full 80 minutes of the CD. And even Road To Nothingness was strong enough to fool me into thinking it was the final track, when lo-and-behold, there was still another to follow. Granted, once you’ve listened to Movements a few times over, you’ll get used to having these peaks spread out, but be prepared to be thrown off-guard for a little while.

There are other assorted sonic goodies scattered about too. Breeze makes for a tranquil finale-proper, easing us out with gentle meditative tones. The Stones Are Not Too Busy, as the cutesy title suggests, is a lightweight romp the more cynical lot of you out there will probably figure a bit overly twee. If so, the moody ambient soundscapes provided by the likes of Dust or Patterns should be more up your alley. As for the rest, well, I’ll let you discover them for yourself. No sense in me spoiling everything, right?

After all, my job here is to let you know whether Movements comes recommended or not. Short answer is yes, definitely. However, the long answer is if you are expecting Solar Fields to have provided yet another all-time Ultimae classic, your results may vary. The label has released better, of that there is no doubt. I’m not even sure if Movements is the best starting point for the uninitiated since Birgersson’s project has plenty more to offer than chill-out bliss; not to mention this is but a sliver of what you can expect of Ultimae. Beyond that though, you’ll find this album a welcome companion to your chill archives.


ACE TRACKS:
Sol
Das Bungalow
Breeze

Written by Sykonee for TranceCritic.com, 2009. © All rights reserved.


1 comment:

Electro said...

I first found about Solar Fields' music (and Ultimae) from that review of Movements on Trance Addicts. Thanks!

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