solar bears cover supermigration

Solar Bears are John Kowalski and Rian Trench. They’ve just released their second album, Supermigration, on Planet Mu, following up 2010’s She Was Coloured In. They launch the album in the Button Factory in Dublin on Friday, April 26. Here’s the Facebook event. You can stream the album below, or on Spotify, and can buy it here. My review of Supermigration is after the jump.

Solar Bears are known for their knowledge of movies as much as for their music. Asked about their influences, chances are they’ll list off a number of 70s B-movies alongside music. The word you’ll often see associated with them is ‘soundtrack’, in that it sounds like their music should be accompanying a film. Thus far it hasn’t.

Supermigration feels like something bigger than before. Where even the title of their last album, She Was Coloured In, seemed like a dream, or something unattainable, Supermigration aims higher. It takes us, a la the Mighty Boosh, on a vivid journey through time and space. This may be a dream, but it’s one which seems so realistic that you can reach out and feel the stars. Mostly instrumental, bar two or three tracks, the titles of each song are hard to ignore, something you can’t say about artists making similar music. ‘Cosmic Runner’, ‘Alpha People’, ‘Happiness Is A Warm Spaceship’; what is the listener supposed to think of other that a journey across the sky? It’s a stretch to call it a concept album, but Supermigration is a journey to another place, somewhere most of us, Bruce Willis, Mark Hamill and a few select others, haven’t been.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. And Solar Bears are our captains.

Things begin with ‘Stasis’, an intro where I expected to hear the announcement: ‘previously on Solar Bears…’ The next two tracks, the aforementioned ‘Cosmic Runner’ and ‘Alpha People’, were released prior to the album. Indeed, the former track has been around for about a year. They sound like familiar classics, with ‘Cosmic Runner’ arriving on that monster Daft Punk-esque guitar riff. The latter, meanwhile, announces its entrance alongside a horn, and features vocals that declare: “There are no friends here for so long.” Sung by Sarah from Keep Shelly In Athens, it instantly stands out from what’s gone before. It also begins our journey into Supermigration. We’ve now met the ‘Alpha People’ – what next?

And here’s where it’s difficult to get away from that word soundtrack. Why do Solar Bears need to make music for a movie when they’ve so vividly created a standalone visual treat here? We get all the tenets you might expect from film music. There’s the montage of ‘Love Is All’ (a track which made me think our protagonist was Wall-E and that he’d just found Eve), the heightened sense of drama in ‘The Girl Who Played With Light’, where its wonky, off-key effects add to the tense affair, and then another emotional slow track in ‘You & Me’. A criticism I expect to see levelled at the album is that it’s a little staggered, that the deep, faster songs are split between these slow jams, and that it’s hard to immerse yourself in the album. They’re richly textured though, and offer a respite from the drama that surrounds. There’s something hypnotic about them too, particularly ‘Rising High’. John Kowalski, interviewed by Sarah from Keep Shelly in Athens for Nialler9 last year, said: “Music is very therapeutic and protective. I don’t know what it is and how it comes about but there is a healing process involved. There is nothing I place higher.” It’s hard not to think of the slower songs when he says this.

‘Our Future Is Underground’ is my favourite track. It’s beautiful, and simple, with a piano piece that remains throughout. It’s probably the vocals of Air collaborator Beth Hirsch that elevate this to new heights. “I remember you, you remember me,” she sings plainly. It’s not deep, but it just sounds like love. Pure, simple love. Compare this with the line from ‘Alpha People’ now: “There are no friends here.” Well Solar Bears have gone on this cosmic journey and not only found friends but true love, as well. The song evolves into an epic crescendo, with the piano guiding us through. The album could end here but it doesn’t, instead returning to yet more drama – I think ‘A Sky Darkly’ is the big fight scene, with its sense of foreboding impossible to ignore. ‘Happiness Is A Warm Spacestation’ is the longest track of the collection by about 100 seconds. It takes its time to develop, offering up that long keyboard sound that Solar Bears have claimed as their own. And then it becomes a big dance tune, completely at odds with everything that’s gone before. It’s effortlessly done, and sounds like the future.

We end on ‘Rainbow Collision’, where if this IS a movie, then it’s our heroes returning home, greeted by confetti, kisses from their worried wives – or a kiss from the Alpha person they’ve brought home and will introduce to their parents – and a parade in their honour. All the while, the lights go up, you realise you’ve been immersed in Supermigration, and that it’s time to leave the cinema, wiping tears away and crunching popcorn on the way. John Kowalski this week told Harmless Noise: “We want people to leave the venue elated, feeling like something has just happened to them. Something good.”

Solar Bears: mission accomplished.