Solaris is a collaborative Icelandic monster of an effort between two composers in Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason, the former of which is a co-founder of the label in which this album appears, Bedroom Community. Ben Frost is known for his maddeningly fractured sound, one moment focusing on a flowing, intense stream of beautiful piano-based melody or lulling ambiance, while in the next moment collapsing any sentiment of emotion into a barrage of post-industrial experimentation and/or walls of noise. Daníel Bjarnason’s music is equally as schizophrenic, but still an all-together different monster. His arrangements can often be quietly creeping, even mournful, but at times also mirror the quickly evolving post-modern world that we are beginning to live in, an appropriate comparison in classical music (see: “Bow to String: Sorrow Conquers Happiness”. Both of these huge talents have come together here for this release, Sólaris, a much more minimal, subtle, and emotional journey than either of these composers has taken previously in their respective careers.
The music on Sólaris is based off of the 1960’s Polish science fiction novel of the same name by Stanislaw Lem. For those not familiar with the story, Sólaris was an interesting concept that found human scientists studying a planet named Sólaris from a hovering research facility. The planet itself was conscious/self-aware and was able to read the thoughts of the scientists and project their deeply-hidden guilt in the form of manifestations that mirror the scientists most painful memories and experiences.
Most of Sólaris is downright painful to listen to on a psychological level, especially once you know what the theme behind the music is concerning. There are vast open segments of minimal beauty that enhance the near-cataclysmic moments between and largely dictate the emotions of the listener at that moment. Clean, crisp flowing harmonies are often quickly disrupted by a gentle dissonant pairing in the layers that lie underneath the highest level of melody, and are often disturbed by the uncomfortable chromatically-played tremolo notes on strings. Often they are not actually played in a chromatic manner but stay the same note, which still gives off moments of extreme tension as they swell and pull back in purling resonance. As is true to each composer on the record, these moments often cut abruptly and collapse into either nothingness or another desolate atmosphere created by a minimalist approach. There are few, if any, joyful moments on the album as is true to the story they represent. It is a constant journey through trauma, a constant digging through the memory of a conscious mind. Sifting, seeking, pushing.
Both of these composers, though relatively young, have both displayed a great deal of maturity with this release. They’ve effectively captured the atmosphere that was portrayed within the book, though I’m sure Lem may say that it wasn’t “alien” enough given his mildly outspoken distaste for the theatrical adaptations of his book. It’s no surprise that two Icelandic composers are able to capture the beauty of subtle tones in such a way though, given the relative beauty that their country possesses in even its most desolate lands. It should be noted as well that the tension in the album itself is profoundly mirrored by the album cover which, despite together in a subtle embrace that one may not even notice without looking closely, is heart-breakingly bleak. The overall look of defeat on Frost’s face is paired with Bjarnason’s determination to understand to create an incredibly oppressive atmosphere that one can’t fully appreciate until the album has come to a close. Unnervingly haunting.
01) We don’t Need other Worlds, we need Mirrors
02) Simulacra I
03) Simulacra II
06) Cruel Miracles
07) Hydrogen Sulfide
08) Unbreakable Silence
09) You mean more to me than any Scientific Truth