Audio Mixer: Ivan Jackman.
Creator: Solar Bears .
Following two well-received albums and an EP for Mike Paradinas' Planet Mu, Irish electronic duo Solar Bears moved to Rob Da Bank's Sunday Best label for the release of their third full-length, 2016's Advancement. While the duo's music has always possessed a cinematic flair, with science fiction particularly being their calling -- their name is a reference to Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 classic Solaris -- Advancement sounds like their most soundtrack-worthy material yet. The group's previous releases featured a wide array of instruments and textures, heavy on guitars and live drums as well as electronics, and 2013's Supermigration found the duo heading closer to the pop realm with the additions of guest vocals by Air collaborator Beth Hirsch and Greek vocalist Sarah P. (then of Keep Shelley in Athens). On Advancement, their sound is a bit more streamlined, losing the guest vocalists and focusing on chilling electronic melodies and bitcrushed beats. The result isn't miles away from Boards of Canada's 2013 comeback Tomorrow's Harvest, which added a significant John Carpenter influence to the Scottish brothers' pastoral sound. That feeling of suspense is evident here, with the eerie, chiming synthesizer melodies percolating over steady rhythms. The duo largely keep to a simmering midtempo, with only "Gravity Calling" accelerating into the chugging neo-disco territory regularly explored on previous releases. However, the beats on this album seem far more detailed and intricate, constantly stuttering and mutating while remaining focused enough to clearly guide the songs. The starry "Scale" is a particular highlight. The duo can't help ending the album with an epic battle scene, and "Separate from the Arc" has thundering, processional drums and triumphant yet mournful guitar riffs. Advancement ends up being an appropriate title, as this album largely dispenses with the cheesy elements that marred previous Solar Bears recordings, resulting in their most accomplished and enjoyable release to date. ~ Paul Simpson