London-based duo Solomon Grey, made up of Joe Wilson and Tom Kingston, couldn’t have picked a better time to release this, their enthralling debut LP. Since 2012 the pair has risen astronomically in popularity, amassing airplay from the BBC, winning the endorsement of big names in music journalism and even featuring in film and television, notably the recent BBC adaptation of J. K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. The band having been in the limelight for such a duration, one cannot help but feel as if a boiling point has been reached, and these 12 tracks of epic synth pop are the explosive results.
As an album that frequently shifts from incomprehensible ambience to exciting nuggets of slick pop, Solomon Grey possesses a selection of necessary features that tie the album together and retain the band’s unique sense of identity. The most prominent of these is its supremely swish production, which not only exudes class and modernity but also accentuates every intricate melodic and textural element found in the pair’s compositions. The complexity of some of these tracks is really what causes them to be a cut above the usual electro-pop soundbites, and the grandiose production style holds the key to this. It’s definitely a headphones kind of album.
The more abstract tracks that feature on the LP are undoubtedly its finest achievements. From the compelling ambient overture to mid-album breather The Void, Solomon Grey persistently toy with their listeners as they flit from punchy, straightforward pop to experimental instrumental pieces without any need for apology. Final track Choir to the Wind arguably possesses the most engaging of these experimental moments, as it moves from an admittedly dull and uninspiring opening to a triumphant outro full of dissonant sound and growing, intermingling keyboard melodies that continue to progress and evolve until the record’s dying breath.
Not always is Solomon Grey so inspiring, but it is rarely dull. Many tracks such as See You There and Sweet 84 will go down a storm with fans of mainstream synth-pop; catchy and high-tempo, with busy drums and some powerful vocal performances, they serve a purpose admirably. However, it really is the more sonically expansive, almost orchestral, numbers that shine on this record. It might not be the most attention-grabbing career move to make, but the duo would do well to focus on this side to their work; they really don’t need the cheap pop hooks to prove themselves as credible artists.
There are far worse criticisms a band’s debut album can receive than the fact that they don’t quite know how to capitalise on their strongest qualities (and they are very strong). As a first full-length LP Solomon Grey is a fine effort from a duo that seems to be constantly developing its sound. Few people will be satisfied by 100% of its tracks, eclectic as it is, but if anything that is a testament to their reluctance to play it safe and desire to persistently move forwards. With a busy 2016 ahead, these guys are more than worth keeping an eye on.
Solomon Grey was released on 18 March 2016.