The last couple of releases from Swedish collective Vårt Solsystem/ Our Solar System have been very special for me indeed. Both ‘In Time’ and ‘Världsliga Bekymmer (Worldly Concerns)’ have been absolutely magnificent in their individuality and ability to wow me in different ways at different times. If you asked me to describe them to you I would say both have a certain ambition to them, with the former being the softer and smoother of the two in a spaced out experimental jazz sort of way, while the latter was more abstract and generally out there. These, of course, are huge oversimplifications, but what I’m trying to get across is the idea that these albums are the result of a unique and compelling collective mind and it is rather regretful that I was a bit behind the curve with both of them.
That’s why I was stoked to hear that the ever reliable Beyond Beyond is Beyond label was putting out a new Our Solar System album, their third collaboration… and I’m pleased to say that it is different again. Comprising one long and a series of shorter tracks it is, like the others, one of those albums that slowly unravels in you mind the more times that you play it. In fact I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks now and have really only now got to the point where I feel that I understand it enough to write about it.
So here goes. The first side of the album is taken up with one track, ‘Vulkanen’ which, like previous outings, suggests that Our Solar System are continuing with taking on the big idea and large scale issues. In one sense this is space rock, but really not as we know it. Beginning with massive rumbles which sound like the very tectonic plates of a planet shifting the track settles into a huge cycle of sounds that sound at the same time ominous, with a dark sense of foreboding. The music sort of looms over you until it settles into something more gentle with bass and drums taking a lead in a sort of bridging section that takes the sound from the macro- to micro- scale as the band strike out into more abstract and experimental territory. This feels alive and improvised other instruments take over with piano, percussion and synths interacting in a way that then feels like there’s an emphasis on nature rather than geology… perhaps reflecting the ‘Origins’ of the album’s title. The use of vocals and flute take away any hard edges and bring us into the presence of tranquil streams and glistening leaves and the full beauty of nature seems to be reflected. It feels like we are in some sort of oasis, however symbolic that may be. Then we leave the tranquility of this mid-section as we feel ourselves back in the maelstrom of whirling synth and crashing drums and symbols… the vocals leading us to a place of danger… of heat and of fire… the music becoming a increasingly unhinged dervish of sounds bringing to mind rivers of lava and the destructive path as they weave through the rock. Back again to the geological, to the macro-scale. What a track!
After that mammoth ur-creation of a track, the second side of the record feels a little more open and accessible. Although if you’re listening through for the first time you might initially be surprised by this assessment. ‘Babalon Rising’ seems to continue the themes of ‘Vulkanen’ except, weirdly, all at the same time. There is a mixture of big and intricate sounds here, with a vocal that sounds menacingly spiritual. Gradually, though, the number resolves itself into something more laid back as the saxophone takes hold and gives a first real hint of Our Solar System’s jazz sensibilities. This continues until something of a crescendo is reached. Job done!
Next up is ‘En bit av det tredje klotet’ which is the sort of track that’s great to listen too once you’re truly settled into an album. In comparison to what has gone before it has a lighter touch to it, but with some really nice melodies that take you along with them. It feels good to get a respite from the heavier and more abstract music, but without taking us too far away from the feeling developed thus far.
After that ‘Naturligt Samspel’ feels light a short-ish introduction of drone and nature sounds leading into the final track ‘Monte Verita’ which is possibly the one which has the most in common with the ‘Världsliga Bekymmer’ album. Here there is a lovely mixture of melody and abstraction, something that I always feel Our Solar System do well, and if anything could be described as their signature sound then this would be it. As the track builds up a more harmonious vocal, certainly than that on ‘Babalon Rising’ kicks in and really leads the band as they build up into something that sound somewhat final and, perhaps, fatalistic. There’s a sense for me of moving towards something in the knowledge that it may not be what you are hoping for, and element of melancholy mixed in with a growing menace that you are kind of left with at the end. Nothing resolved but plenty to think about.
All I can really say about his album in the final analysis is that Our Solar System have done it again. They have once more produced something that has at the same time confirmed and confounded my opinion of them. Confirmed because they have produced something that is once again fresh, different, and full of paradoxes. Confounded because the scale of some of this music, especially the long track on side one, seems to have once again expanded beyond where I thought they could take it. There are also greater contrasts here than on previous single works, and that mixture of the melodic and abstractly experimental seems to be more effectively blended than before. In short another album that I look forward to listening to many times and have it constantly evolving in my head.
‘Origins’ is available now on vinyl, cd and download from Beyond Beyond is Beyond records here.