Willie Reviews Solar Corona’s “Saint-Jean-de-Luz”

Willie Reviews Solar Corona’s “Saint-Jean-de-Luz”

Portuguese progressive rock quartet Solar Corona channels just exactly as much krautrock as it sees fit on its new record, Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Here’s RPM’s review:

You know what you’re getting into with Solar Corona just by reading the tracklist: four tracks, each over ten minutes. These live improvisational sessions orbit around a theme in ways that reflect each member’s interests, obsessions, and melodic tendencies. You’ll see reflections across tracks and feel the pull in one dynamic direction or another. Anything could feasibly happen, but the band shows restraint throughout and they give each other a lot of space. And isn’t it spacey?

Solar Corona is José Roberto Gomes, Julius Gabriel, Peter Carvalho, and Rodrigo Carvalho. Photo from Bandcamp

The band’s improvisation style approaches the krautrock style of bands like Faust or Can in many of the truest ways. Chief among them is how they’re almost always in control and eager to pursue the weird, ambient noises that happen between noisy rhythms. Throughout “Lux,” a bass riff continues endlessly as a backdrop for paranormal winds and ambient flourishes. Though it initially seems like this riff will fall into step with another rhythm, it never becomes anything other than its own curious loop. For over eleven minutes, the track holds off any spectacular release, stubbornly letting individual thoughts both big and small dance around. By forgoing a Big Finish, the band establishes its commitment to real improvisation.

That’s not to say they don’t value faster, driving beats. But for all their motorik rhythm on a track like “Lúmen,” they never go off the rails. I don’t want to contain it to the krautrock rubric, but the mixed signals of exploratory rock and more predictable rock can be confusing. Without an emphasis on more unconventional grooves, they can lose sight of what makes them an otherwise compelling listen. But when it does all come together, like midway through “Watt,” the sound is just the right amount of unexpected. What sounds like a saxophone wails over the cycling drums and accented guitar.

All four tracks are named after units of light, which feels like a tacked-on theme. But after researching the name of the album, I learned that the straight Portuguese-to-English translation of “luz” to “light” is way off in this context. The Basque resort town Saint-Jean-de-Luz gets its name either from Navarro-Lapurdian Basque or Santus Johannes de Luis, neither of which are fully satisfying explanations, but both of which perhaps inspire the musical theme of light on the record. Certainly knowing the region better than me over here in Minneapolis, the band jumps into associations with light and never looks back. Four beautiful images accompany the album’s digital download, each of which distills one of the tracks into light play and rippling lines.

Track art for “Lux.” Artwork by Nelson Duarte, Serafim Mendes and Sérgio Couto. Image from Bandcamp

So the band’s most thrilling quality is its willingness to play. Don’t be like me and expect a Faust cover band, but do see if you can’t list out all the genre crossovers within these live performances. What you get from improvisation is a series of lateral links, which can then be deciphered afterward while drinking tea.

Score: All the realest urgency extracted from the Sim City soundtrack and dripped into a cup.

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