By Elliot Minor
The overall impression of Elliot Minor's sophomore effort, is that they've taken it down a notch in order to concentrate on melding their classical flourishes and rock guitars into a more coherent whole.
The giddiness of early breakthrough singles 'Jessica' and 'Parallel Worlds' has, for the most part, been reigned in. This is a more straight-faced, atmospheric rock opera, with occasional touches of early Muse. It's a difficult sound to characterise and some fans will no doubt lament the lack of sugar-rush anthems (again, 'Jessica' and 'Parallel Worlds' spring to mind) but, to use an old cliche, it's more mature than their decidedly teenie-bopper debut.
That's not to say 'Solaris' is unrecognisable Elliot Minor material. 'Better Than The Courtroom,' 'Discover (why the love hurts)' and first single 'Electric High' are sure to please existing fans. 'Electric High' is the strongest of the bunch, boasting a euphoria-inducing chorus of irresistible, pop-infused vocals that'll lift even the dourest of spirits and get you singing along in no time. Its exuberance is tempered with wailing riffs and a more self-assured, hard-rock stomp. 'Electric High' has all the mood-elevating properties of pop-punk, with none of the cheesiness. An album highlight.
The instant, sassy rock of 'Better Than The Courtroom' and 'Discover (why the love hurts)' both have that youthful, bright-eyed pop-punk energy that's in surprisingly short supply on 'Solaris.' The rumbling pianos of 'Better Than The Courtroom' are hurried along by snappy drumbeats, before Elliot Minor launch into a swaggering, attitude-packed chorus. 'Discover (why the love hurts)' is another song that isn't short on swagger. Tinkling pianos and funky beats come together in the unusual Elliot Minor blend of classical music and big-chorused pop-rock, gathering to a gorgeous, richly orchestrated bridge section where the band set out to remind you just how well rock music and classical flourishes can work together.
'I Believe' and title track 'Solaris' are similarly lively songs, but with the added bonus of instrumental sections that will blow you away. The latter treats the listener to a burst of punk energy, as piping synths and piano jig across buzzsaw guitars, somehow managing to be hooky and aggressive simultaneously. The bridge is even better, as wailing, hard-rock guitars alternate with low, reverberating riffs. After those whirls of abrasive punk guitar and sharp, stabbing keys, and the epic bridge section, the rest of the song is something of a rude return to Earth but, ultimately, that just makes it all the more exhilarating when Elliot Minor open the floodgates and let the full, dizzy drama wash over the listener.
Meanwhile, 'I Believe's instrumental interludes see waves of drums and riffs break over busy, dizzy strings, in a combination that's simultaneously heavy and bubbly. The choruses are book-ended between this drama-drenched instrumental, and a build-up of snarling guitars. However, the choruses themselves are an uninspired, pop-punk 101 clatter that feels all the more flat, because the music surrounding it is so great. 'I Believe' is a stunning showcase for Elliot Minor's music-writing abilities, that's held back by one glaringly obvious weak point.
Those hoping for an entire album's worth of such high-octane material are going to be sorely disappointed. The rest of 'Solaris' is of a decidedly lower tempo, starting with a duo of downbeat piano ballads in the form of 'All Along' and 'Tethered.' The most striking thing about this pair, is how much angst pop-voiced frontman Alex Davies can convey when the need arises. His vocals are particularly moving on 'Tethered,' as the song evolves from heartbreakingly simple beginnings, where every twist and turn of Davies' voice is revealed in striking detail. Touches of sparkling chords and jigging piano notes, put an optimistic sheen on this otherwise downbeat song. As 'Tethered' progresses, Elliot Minor bring in the crashing guitars and floods of backing vocals but, even at its noisiest, those glimmering chords and Davies' vocals still find their way through. A straight-faced take on the Elliot Minor sound, but irresistible, all the same.
'All Along' is a similarly sophisticated ballad where Davies' voice once again works some unexpected magic. Beginning as a sombre trudge of piano and downhearted vocals, Davies then lifts his voice a note or two, and eases the song into more hopeful territory, with a little help from the band's backing vocalists.
'Coming Home' is another hushed number. Unfortunately, it pales in comparison to 'All Along' and 'Tethered.' It's far too polished, with the main and backing vocals so perfectly harmonised, they sound completely fake. It's easy-on-the-ears and melodic, but too glossy to be truly emotionally affecting.
The best Elliot Minor ballads are all about the build-up, and album-opener 'The Dance' is another song where the band get that all-important build-up spot on. Its clunky little piano refrains, rapping drumbeats and occasional chord-plucking builds to a soft swell of acoustic guitars, before bursting into a fully-fledged, darkly orchestrated, rock-stomp. But, there's one thing Elliot Minor do get terribly wrong, and that's the burst of vocoder-vocals that signs off 'The Dance.' This touch of 80's cheese sits very uneasily with the rest of this icily beautiful number and, as if once wasn't enough, Elliot Minor do it again, with the warped electro vocals that introduce 'Carry On.' Surely, no self-proclaimed rock band wants to sound like they're about to launch into a full-on, cheesy dance track?
Once you get past the hideous opening twenty seconds, 'Carry On' is jangly rock, intricately layered with quivering strings and roughened up with buzzsaw riffs. The vocals do lack 'oomph,' particularly on the chorus, where you'll be willing Elliot Minor to just let rip and turn out a roof-raising vocal performance. A lilting sing-song that'll have you swaying contentedly along, even if it is a little lacking in passion.
'Shiver' is an eclectic song, with funky verses that blend hitching guitars and spiky piano refrains to unusual effect, and choruses where riffs churn and roll through blasts of bristly, abrasive guitar-noise. There's also an extended instrumental ending that's crammed with everything from technical guitar solos, to intricate piano-work, to folky strings. 'Shiver' gives Elliot Minor a playground in which to indulge their unusual musical thinking, and they do themselves proud.
Elliot Minor end things on a brooding note, with the rumbling 'Let's Turn This Back Around' where a surprisingly doomy musical backdrop acts as a foil to Davies' slippery-slick pop vocals. It's a seamless meeting of shiny pop-rock and orchestral flourishes, and is the perfect note to end 'Solaris' on.
With 'Solaris,' Elliot Minor have made a concerted effort to play down the poppy side of their sound. The euphoric, arena-pleasing choruses have been replaced by slower-burning melodies and an overall subtler approach to their music. With the exception of 'Electric High,' 'Discover (why the love hurts)' and 'Better Than The Courtroom,' 'Solaris' is short on truly giddy moments. It's a move that may lose Elliot Minor some existing fans, but this is the sound of a band moving towards a more grown-up sound. A confident follow-up that's far from spectacular, but is bound to silence those who were ready to write Elliot Minor off as one-hit wonders.