We can’t remember the last time we heard three great post-rock albums this early in the year. MONO set the bar high, but now we have California’s Wander and North Carolina’s Old Solar to add to our list. We’re overdue, as in 2018 many scene stalwarts were silent and it wasn’t until summer when we were rescued by Oslo’s Spurv.
Old Solar has been developing its sound over the past few years. SPEAK was released in 2016, mainly a solo project by Travis Brooks with guest percussion from Billy Connolly. The track titles (“Second Heaven,” “Celestial Beings”) hinted at religious themes, which became more overt with 2017’s QUIET PRAYERS. (We detect some irony in the title of the first album being applied to instrumental music and the second being capitalized!) The latter album, a short set of “ambient lullabies,” replaced the giant crescendos with something far more subtle, and the drummer with a drum machine. Standout track “Your Goodness & Mercy” was a cover version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” At this point, one would be forgiven for thinking that Old Solar would remain a humble, faith-based solo project.
But something amazing happened on the way to SEER. The band expanded to a quartet, the range of instrumentation exploded, and the dynamic contrast grew to an exponential extent, thanks in part to mastering by Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna). We’re partial to glockenspiel, and yes, there’s some of that here as well. Even better, SEER is a concept album, with one song for each seasonal equinox (plus a benediction) and cover art to match. But wait, there’s more! If you order now, you may add a t-shirt for every equinox!
Best played as a whole, the album is perfectly suited for a 45-minute drive, in which the excitement of the open road is matched by the power of the music. (However, don’t play this when stuck in traffic.) The release of the album is perfectly timed to coincide with the calendar of these pieces. The spring equinox is introduced with bells and builds, breaking through at 2:07 into something much larger and louder. Let go of the egg: it’s standing on its own! After two minutes of beautiful bombast, the guitars retreat to expose quieter percussion, like bunnies. Then the drums build again, and though post-rock fans all know what’s coming, we’re glad when it does. Remember, we’ve been starved for this.
Standout track “Summer Solstice: Dancing Days in the Garden Well-Watered” may have a title that recalls Led Zeppelin, but it’s post-rock through and through. The opening minute even sounds like a garden, with full petals opening to the sun. Then come the glockenspiels like summer rain. At ten minutes, it’s the longest track in a short career (the subsequent piece nearly matches its length), but the interest is retained through frequent dynamic shifts. When summer turns to autumn, we hardly notice, a physical effect mirrored by the music. We only become aware deep in the season, as the leaves and tones begin to turn: darker, thicker, slower. And then the winter equinox, even more retrospective, with violin, the timbre a sweet reminder of where we are now.
The album title may be simple, but so is the message: see. There is beauty in every season, waiting to be discovered. Whatever season you’re in, your favorite season is never more than nine months away. (Richard Allen)