Solar Year – “Waverly” – Album Review

Is there any other country on the planet currently producing such consistently forward thinking electronica as Canada? With the release of their stunningly atmospheric debut LP Waverly, Solar Year continue to blaze the trail currently being furrowed by compatriots Doldrums, Dresden Dresses and Grimes. Solar Year, the Montreal duo comprising of David Ertel and Ben Borden, raise their banners high with this enigmatic and immersive collection of songs that juxtapose transcendental vocals with monumental production.

Drawing inspiration from the recording’s church-based setting – the space-age altar of which graces Waverly’s cover – the album is imbued with an overall hymnal and elegiac quality. Given the church’s proximity to the sea and mountains, there’s little wonder this distinct aura has led to a sound palette evocative of the elements. Striving to bridge the gap between what is tangible and intangible, Solar Year yield a sound that sits somewhere between the corporeal and spiritual. ‘Psalmgaze’ – the self-coined term for their empyrean sound – couldn’t be more apt.

The foreboding album opener, ‘Currents’, drops us within the swirl and swash of the sea breaking upon the shore and the rush of the wind as it buckles and coils through the trees. This primordial backdrop, coupled with David Ertel’s doleful keen, sets the tone for an introspective auditory experience haunted by spectral vocals and phantom electronics. Waverly is truly a product of the environment in which it was created- it’s soundscape as varied, beautiful and unpredictable as the vistas of Canada itself.

With the wintry ebb and flow of glacial synths and its beguiling new-age ambiance, ‘Global Girlfriend’ is the discovery of a desolate arctic wasteland still unblemished by human hand. Ertel’s icy cry and Borden’s persistent, skittering beat entwine to create a reverberating shiver of a track that lingers in the mind. The intriguing use of Auto-Tune on ‘Seeing the Same’ – another track intent to inveigle its way into the senses – finds the vocal manipulation packing an almost overwhelming emotional weight that spirits you away on a melancholic pilgrimage. The distorted, Knife-like vocal pressing is a mainstay of the Solar Year sound and ‘Brotherhood’ is no exception. Featuring chilling vocals from Grimes, it is a futuristic update on meditative Gregorian chant. It treads solemn terrain as it plunges dark and abject depths.

Solar Year possess an inspired visionary vein that runs throughout Waverly. The experimental accumulation of sound and samples excites cinematic imagery in the mind’s eye and the august, filmic quality of the music brings to mind some of the more gloomy and forbidding tracks from Vangelis’s score for ‘Blade Runner’. Tracks ‘Lines’ and ‘Vu U’ sound like they could have come straight from Daft Punk’s ‘Tron: Legacy’ soundtrack. In that sense, Ertel and Borden are musical cinematographers, their off-kilter production inspiring images of the epic and setting a consistent mood that keeps the listener inside and not outside of their sound.

While there are some stand-out singles on the album, Waverly is best enjoyed as a whole and preferably on a pair of great headphones that will enhance the all-embracing sensory experience that Ertel and Borden provide. With its more ‘intelligent’ electronic leanings, this album is definitely not one to drop at a party, although it would perhaps serve well in the pensive aftermath of a come-down. This is thought-provoking mood music that, whilst not making your feet dance, will leave your imagination doing the tarantella.

Waverly is released on June 25 on Splendour in Europe and Ceremony in the U.S

Lee Drage