Maceo Plex ventures into new territory with the deeply emotive ‘Solar’ [Album Review]
It’s been two years since Maceo Plex revealed his plans to release his Solar. The drawn-out creative process of Eric Estornel’s sophomore album is further emphasized by the amount of time that’s passed since his debut LP, Life Index, was released on Damian Lazarus’ Crosstown Rebels imprint in January of 2011. Six years constitutes an eternity in the dance music realm, but the necessity for the time lapse between albums is thoroughly evident in this new work.
Named for his son, Solar is a thoughtful, deeply personal project for Maceo Plex which eschews the confines of the club-oriented music which he has indisputably mastered (including the ubiquitous confine of instant gratification). With his new album, Estornel has verbally encouraged fans to “Think beyond the dance floor,” Indeed this sentiment is a requisite for listeners who wish to experience the album in a purposeful fashion.
Solar finds its home on Lone Romantic, the artist’s recently-formed record label which sets its focus toward experimental, rock-influenced music rather than the slick house and techno which is consistently minted by his well-established Ellum imprint. Speaking with NPR, Estornel addresses the significance of his 2-year old son, Solar, to the artistic direction of his new label, album, and overall musical outlook:
“Being a father changed the way I looked at my music. I needed depth… Sure, exceptional dance tracks can last forever, but so many of them don’t have a real story to tell. These producers say, ‘Oh, my music tells a story,’ but when you listen to it it’s really just a beat and some hi-hats. Rock music tells a story.”
Estornel’s search for narrative depth doesn’t mean that he’s abandoned the dance music which helped build his career as Maetrik, and later, Maceo Plex. “The Tesseract,” which was previously released in an eponymous EP, is acutely-suited for an after hours club set. So, too, are the mellifluous, yet industrial-tinged instrumentals “Sparks of Life” and “Lucid Dreamer” (though both of these tracks would stand out as strikingly experimental on a dance-floor).
Throughout the rest of the album, however, Maceo Plex’s standard fare recurs in whispers of synthesis amid a cheer of stylistic deviation. Estornel’s aptitude for composing dazzling melodies is apparent in “Kepler’s Journey,” just as his acuity for crafting dark, chilling tones is in “Eternal 808” and the album’s deeply haunting conclusion, “Swan Dive.” Yet, the structures of these pieces are stark aberrations from the artist’s Ellum productions, veering away from house and techno and into the realm of downtempo and IDM.
Perhaps most notable, however, is the focus which Estornel places on vocals throughout Solar. The stirring falsetto Duncan Jones (or DNCN, as he’s credited) pervades the album as a definitive component of “Polygon Pulse,” “Solar Wind,” and the aforementioned “Eternal 808.” The brooding, drawn-out “Indigo” is about as far from Maceo Plex’s established style as possible, but stands out as a highlight of the album, thanks to Jono McCleary’s wistful croons.
Solar, as a whole, is less danceable than any of Eric Estornel’s prior releases. However, it’s also, arguably, his most engaging work to date. Speaking with Billboard, the artist opines:
“Dance music is awesome, it’s awesome to make, but it’s for dancing and life isn’t dancing… Do you connect more with the last amazing dance record you heard, or with Dépêche Mode? When you write some listening music with a proper concept and message, it’s a deeper connection to the people.”
Though Estornel’s above statement risks alienating some fans, his take on dance music is more objective than it is hot. The currently thriving dance culture (in which he himself thrives) is a powerful vehicle to express emotions, but it’s also a limited one. There are concepts and sensibilities which can’t be conveyed by even the most thoughtfully-produced club hit. While this notion doesn’t denigrate dance music, it does emphasize the importance of veering out into different influences in order to innovate, avoid stagnancy, and communicate an evocative narrative.
Prior to this point, Eric Estornel’s canon has deservedly stood the test of time. However, with Solar, Maceo Plex proves to the world that his music may very well become timeless.