SØLYST-THE STEAM AGE.

SØLYST-THE STEAM AGE.

Time management is important for any musician. Especially when they’re trying to juggle several projects at once. Some musicians struggle to do so, while others make it look ridiculously easy. This includes Düsseldorf based drummer Thomas Klein.

He has been combining musical projects over the last three decades. Originally, Thomas Klein was of Deux Baleines Blanches. However, by 1994 they had evolved into Kreidler. They would become one of the most successful and innovative bands of their generation. Still, though, Thomas Klein found time to work on a variety of side projects.

One of the most high profile side projects as La Neu?, Klaus Dinger’s post Neu! band. This was just the tip of the musical iceberg.  Thomas Klein would go on to work with Petra Bosch as Fauna, and as a solo artist. However, Thomas Klein’s most high recent profile side project has been Sølyst.

Sølyst.

The Sølyst story began in August 2011, when Thomas Klein’s latest side project released their eponymous debut album on Bureau B.  Sølyst was an inventive fusion of Krautrock and dub. It sounds as if it’s distant relation to Michael Karoli’s 1984 debut solo album Deluge. Just like Michael Karoli, Thomas Klein is a sonic adventurer who pushed musical boundaries. This was apparent when Sølyst was released.

When Sølyst was released, it was to widespread critical acclaim. Critics recognised that Sølyst was an innovative, genre-melting album. For Thomas Klein, Sølyst’s debut album had been a resounding success. Now it was a case of doing it all again.

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Lead.

Nearly two years later, and Sølyst return with their sophomore album in April 2013 Lead. Just like Sølyst, two of Lead’s key ingredients were Kruatrock and dub. However, there was also a tribal influence on Lead. This was new, and showed that Thomas Klein wasn’t going to stand still. 

Instead, Thomas Klein was keen to ensure Sølyst’s sound evolved. He  had succeeded in doing so on Lead. When Lead was released, it was hailed by critics as another groundbreaking album from Sølyst. Buoyed by the critical acclaim and commercial success of Lead, Thomas Klein has returned with his most ambitious album yet, The Steam Age. 

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The Steam Age.

After a near three year absence, the announcement came, that Sølyst was about to return with their third album, The Steam Age. It was recently released by Bureau B, and is undoubtably the most ambitious so far. 

The Steam Age finds Sølyst ushering in: “a new era of digital steam power.” Sølyst it seems, has decided to turn his back on the binary code. This was a brave decision. In doing so, Sølyst was turning his back on one piece of equipment that adorns most producer’s studios; a gleaming, turbo charged Mac Book. However, don’t worry, Sølyst had found the perfect replacement…a piano.

This wasn’t just any old piano. That wouldn’t do. Indeed, that would’ve make things too easy for Sølyst. He had managed to acquire an unloved, abandoned piano. It in modern day parlance, had been trashed. For Sølyst this was perfect.

That unloved, abandoned piano became the perfect source of sounds for The Steam Age. Sølyst was able to pluck, scrape, scratch and tap every part of the piano. This included the strings and the wooden body. There was something almost Faust like in what Sølyst was doing. This myriad of Faustian sounds were captured by Sølyst’s sampler, and became the building blocks for The Steam Age.

Next, Sølyst retired to his studio where he could begin to add to the sequences and patterns that he had captured. By then, Sølyst had added to his trusty drum kit. He had added a myriad of alternative percussion. This included a variety of everyday objects. Many of them are usually discarded. Not by musical maverick Sølyst. Instead, they became an addendum to his drum kit. As he sat down to play, a tin can, wooden board and even what he describes as an “electronically manipulated table percussion ensemble” surrounded him. Now it was time for the groove-meister to make some music with his alternative orchestra and analog synths.

Drawing inspiration from Krautrock, Berlin School, musique concrète, electronica, free jazz  and avant-garde, Sølyst’s alternative mechanical orchestra began to lay down twelve tracks. Nothing was planned. Instead, everything he recored over the patterns and sequences played on the abandoned piano, was spontaneous. Sølyst played with freedom, improvising but knowing intuitively what came next. This was the case throughout The Steam Age. When The  Steam Age was complete, it was a case of mission accomplished for Sølyst.

He had succeeded in creating an album with a hypnotic, mesmeric and rhythmic backdrop. This resulted in a machinelike backdrop to the tracks on The  Steam Age. The music is atmospheric and cinematic. It’s as if Sølyst has captured machines at work. Not the cutting edge, almost futuristic machines found in the factories making BMW, Mercedes Benz and Audis. Instead, they’re machines from another age.

Think of the Industrial Revolution, and the dark, satanic mills that sprung up across the North-West of England. They were full of machines, that were badly maintained by owners who were determined to spend as little on maintenance; while making as much profit as possible. This meant the machines don’t have the same efficiency as their modern day counterparts. 

Instead, they cough, splutter and strain as worn cogs, gears and pistons struggle to cope with a days workload. The machinery and its motors are tired, full of scratches, scrapes and gouges through lack of maintenance. Years of dust and grime has built up, and is described by modern day romantics as patina.  Meanwhile, cogs and wheels, whine and protest. As motes of dust fill the air, all that everyone hears is the satisfyingly mesmeric, hypnotic and rhythmic backdrop they produce. It’s akin to an alternative orchestra, where pistons, cogs, wheels and gears replace the strings, horns and woodwind. They’re a musical and cinematic reminder the sounds of the dark, satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution,  which you’ll soon  realise Sølyst has captured perfectly on The Steam Age.

Opening The Steam Age, is the title-track.  A lo-fi beeping sound is are panned from left to right. Then the machine awakens. Welcome To The Machine. Its sound is big and bold, dominating the soundscape. Meanwhile, Sølyst’s alternative percussion creates a hypnotic backdrop. They add an almost robotic, Faustian sound. By then, snarling cogs and wheels protest, as pipes rumble. Suddenly, the dark satanic mills seem very real, as a droning sound signals the day’s end.

Futuristic, dramatic and cinematic describes Autumn. It’s as if the machines have come to life, and are lumbering through the factory in search of their tormentor.  Sølyst’s percussive orchestra join the march, adding a mesmeric backdrop. Meanwhile, droning synths add to the drama, as the hypnotic sound builds. It has a rhythmic quality. Especially as Sølyst powers his way round his heavily modified drum-kit. By then, melodic, rhythmic and hypnotic describes this cinematic epic.

Dark, droning synths encircle the arrangement to Eulenflug. As they buzz, Sølyst uses  rest of the arrangement replicate the sounds of machines.  Soon, though, they’re dancing. It’s as if once the owners away, the machines will play. And play they do. Sølyst seems determined to do for machines, what Disney did for toys in the Toy Story trilogy. In doing so, he creates an irresistible track could fill the dance-floor of the hipster clubs of Berlin and Hamburg.

Steamfield I lasts just over a minute. Despite that, Sølyst still has time to fuse elements of Krautrock, musique concrète, electronica and industrial. As flourishes of roller coaster synths zip across the arrangement, drums and a myriad of industrial sounds combine. They replicate the strangely hypnotic and alluringly musical sound of a factory at work.

On Nostalghia,  drums pound and reverberate. They’re akin to a machine awakening.  Soon, they’re joined by the myriad of alternative percussion who replicate the sound of pistons pumping and wheels turning. When synths are added,  the ‘machine’ picks up speed. In the background, people hammer, while cogs grind. Then a bass synths bounds along, adding to the reassuringly hypnotic track. As the tempo increases, the machinery whines, as if in protest. Too fast it proclaims. Then as if by magic, the tempo drops and the machine briefs a sigh of relief. The day is done and rest awaits. 

Clearly the sound of the piano being played and the strings  being plucked can be heard on Mount Eiffel. He taps out a series of sequences on the woodwork. They grow quicker, and soon are galloping along like a badly maintained loom. As sci-fi sounds  flit in and out, always, the rhythmic, hypnotic sound is comfortingly omnipresent.

Balletic and elegiac describes the introduction Catching Leafs. Gracefully it glides along serenely, before the machine stretches and awakens. Gradually, cogs and big wheels are turning. They provide the backdrop to this alternative. That’s until the machine develops a problem, and the tempo drops. It crawls along,  cogs whirr, jam, stick and work themselves free, as the vocoded industrial sound protests. Later, a brief burst of the balletic sound reappears, as the machine grinds to a halt. Its last act, however, was a memorable, and indeed, melodic one.  

A buzzing bass synth punctuates the arrangement to Tesla. Soon, the factory awakens. Maybe it is time to play again? Especially when the machines reform their orchestra. They’re soon chattering, as if offering up an alternative symphony. This range from metallic and buzzing sound, to whirring, grinding and jarring sounds. Meanwhile, a clock seems to chime repeatedly. Together, the with rest of the orchestra it creates a melodic, and mesmeric alternative symphony.

William lasts just four seconds during which, an otherworldly sound assails the listener. It gives way to Atomium where woodblocks are combined with a free jazz performance on the abandoned piano’s strings. When it disappears, a relentless pounding drum plays, and swells of distant melodic music tantalise. Then Sølyst briefly pounds, brushes and punishes the piano strings. It’s joined by a pulsating steam hammer synth. As it provides a backdrop, sounds flit in and out. They’re variously melodic, futuristic, challenging and dramatic. It’s what one would expect of an industrial backdrop. However, when the sounds unite into one pulsating, hypnotic mass they become memorable and melodic. 

Steamfield II sounds like a rickety steam train making its way down to the track. As it does, it contributes to a cinematic industrial soundtrack, which sounds like a Victorian slice of drum ’n’ bass.

Shelf closes The Steam Age. As a pulsating bass synth dominates the arrangement, the sound of hammering is added. Incredibly, this proves melodic. So do the whirling, echoing sound. Just like the rest of the arrangement it’s raison d’être is to create a hypnotic backdrop. That’s what Sølyst’s been trying to achieve throughout The Steam Age. Again he’s succeed in doing so, on his genre-melting third album The Steam Age which was recently released by Bureau B.

The Steam, Age is without doubt, the most ambitious, innovative  and groundbreaking album of Sølyst’s career. He turns his back on the binary code, and devotes an album to a time when the Mac Book wasn’t even a figment in the most fertile imagination. Not even within the dark, satanic mills of North-West England during the Industrial Revolution.

That’s what The Steam Age sounds like the soundtrack. Sølyst even manages to replicate the sound of a factory at work. It veers between dramatic, alluring and melodic, to mesmeric, reassuringly rhythmic and hypnotic. The sound of Sølyst’s factory at work provides a captivating soundtrack. Especially when the machines seem to dance with delight. Sølyst it seems , is providing the soundtrack of a factory at play. This conjures up visions of machines coming to life, a la Toy Story. Maybe, Sølyst has inadvertently provided the soundtrack to Disney Pixar’s next blockbuster? He certainly has created a cinematic epic.

When listening to The Steam Age, it’s best to let your imagination run riot. As you listen to the music, scenarios will unfold before your eyes. Suddenly, the dark satanic mills seem very real. Especially their sounds and dangers, as sounds assail one’s senses. For forty-nine minutes, The Steam Age proves an enthralling and captivating listen. It’s the closest thing to time travel you’ll experience with without Doctor Who’s Tardis. 

SØLYST-THE STEAM AGE.

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