The Solar Fields output over 10 albums has been eclectic, amorphous and impressive, shifting vehicle every couple of albums and facilitating a pick’n’mix outflow of high grade downbeat and ambient sound. At one point it strayed into trance (EARTHSHRINE – 2007) and it appeared that Magnus Birgersson was wrangling with too wide a sonic spectrum. Notwithstanding a personal allergy to trance, this just did not seem like something I particularly wanted to hear mixed up with the other grandiose and ethereal tones I had come to associate with Solar Fields. Perhaps this direction would have been better suited as a side project. Whatever the case, it was wisely abandoned and in its place a new sonic cycle began, advancing headlong into deeper expanses of ambience. This latest offering, fresh from the well-respected Ultimae camp, is an album of remarkable content that could well be the best Solar Fields record to date.
UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY is designed as a continuous piece broken into 12 phases. The first of these, FROM THE NEXT END, commands immediate attention as something new emerging from a chrysalis. Instead of a habitual beat-based fare, this is an immense and protracted opening of drifting subtleties. BROKEN RADIO ECHO is like a modern take on Eno’s vintage atmospheric inclinations with very restrained piano phrasing. This continues into a longer phase, SINGING MACHINE, with layers of melody and a rising diffusion breathing an airy luminosity across the track. It cuts like a valve being shut as a tribal beat momentarily fades in and out of the resonance and ebbs straight into AFTER MIDNIGHT, THEY SPEAK, an ambient habitat riddled with foreground and distant punctuations. These leave themselves open to interpretation as either the frolicking of night critters or the subservience of busy gadgets… or both. Once again the roaming piano motif briefly appears like a lost fragment of a complete piece long dispersed over the multitude of swelling phases. WHEN THE WORLDS COLLIDE ascends over a sparse and economical drumbeat that seems to gather percussive fragments of space junk as it cruises through its six-minute phase. DIALOGUE WITH A RIVER is a Tonto’s Expanding Headband title for a track if ever I heard one, although musically there’s little similarity. This commences with some delicate electronic plumes before resonating into a dark shapeless drone. Just after the six and a half minute mark, the first prominent downbeats of the album appear, chunky yet strangely unobtrusive amongst the flows and splashes. FORGOTTEN is shorter and sporadically unleashes emblems of melody from it’s amorphous structure which break loose like spores dispersing from a golden age of electronic music. Elements of Cluster and Popol Vuh come to mind. NIGHT CITY TRAFFIC starts out on a low Kraftwerkian throb with glitchy pace making subdued under a wash of effects. This develops into a heavily progressive journey, venturing through a multifaceted landscape of weird rhythmic sounds, micro melodies and crystalline sequences. Without a doubt it owes much in concept to Autobahn, but this is very much its own thing and is immaculately constructed… a definite album highlight. SOMBRERO sounds positively urban and almost funky in comparison. I half expect it to break into a club beat but it remains pacified and dulcet, momentarily deviating from the greater sonic mantle of the album without jilting it off in an unnecessary direction. LAST STEP IN VACUUM is another slow swell of harmonic mist with subtle sound effects germinating in its catchment. This fuses with UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY’s vibrant euphony and very distant industrial beat. EPILOGUE completes the cycle of phases by revisiting elements of the album’s melodies in one last drift and connecting sonically right back with FROM THE NEXT END.
Magnus Birgersson is firmly in the Scandinavian ambient heavyweight league (along with Biosphere and Carbon Based Lifeforms) and the Solar Fields oeuvre of floating sound and slow motion is a hugely important part of that ambient renaissance. Whatever it is about the far northern hemisphere (those long twilights maybe?), a superior understanding of where to guide this music has been radiating from that loose geographical direction for the last few years. UNTIL WE MEET THE SKY, in particular, successfully evolves the audio genetic spawned on MOVEMENTS (2009) and it ventures well above and beyond the call of duty in finding new ways to galvanise and invigorate this species of electronic music. For best results, play loud with the lights off – A truly excellent recording. – BOZ