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Rubik #3


2009’s Dada Bandits, Rubik‘s second album, is one of the best re-inventions of the 2010s. The band that leaned pretty heavily to the direction of OK Computer-era Radiohead with dashes of Mew thrown in for good measure on their 2007 debut Bad Conscience Patrol suddenly reappeared as a completely different band a few years after, trading the guitar walls of the debut to whimsical, colourful, caleidoscopic and madmanly quirky melodic frolics that sparkled and glimmered with a whole new ethos. Outside Artturi Taira’s recognisable voice the two albums had very little in common, and it was a change that was not only necessary but also a shining example of sheer brilliance: with one stroke the band turned from another good rock band among many into a group with a sound of their own and a bright passion to shout it out loud.

The new one, Solar, doesn’t throw things around as radically. Rubik have found their own sound and continue on that same path: once again it’s all about showers of melodies and layers upon layers of instruments happily frolicing in an insane fit of creativity. Instead, Solar follows a more logical path of evolution. While the core remains the same, the occasional calls of ‘prog pop’ that Dada Bandits got thrown at it feel far more justified now: there’s only a few direct pop blasters this time and the majority of the album is devoted to using the same arsenal of musical tricks that the band employs in their surefire melody singalong explosions in a more off-beat way, switching between styles and feels in songs and making the album feel like a weird parade of musical sidetours that create a bizarrely cohesive unit. Solar is most definitely an album-album where about half of its tracks only make genuine sense when paired with their friends.

The key element is still there though: it’s really, really good. Wonderfully whimsical and delightfully quirky with heaps and heaps of irresistably lovely tunes and hooks scattered around like there’s no tomorrow. It’s like cartoon prog. “World Around You” is a great opener that greets like an old friend even on the first listen, “Sun’s Eyes” and “Laws of Gravity” take care of the killer pop single side of the album (even if the former isn’t yet a single: sure is fantastic though), “Storm in a Glass of Water” jangles straight to one’s heart before suddenly turning into an excited rush only to calm down again and “Not a Hero” mixes together almost surrealistically sexy suaveness and sugar-sweet loveliness. “Solar Death March” is nutty enough that it feels like a mess when you first hear it but eventually reveals itself to be the entire album condensed into four and a half minutes in a way that shouldn’t work but really does. And they’re all packed with delightful details and some fiercely good sense of composition. And vocal melodies. If there’s one thing that jumps massively out of Solar in a really unexpected way, it’s the sheer strength of vocal melodies and harmonies. For most of the songs listed, the key points that stick to your mind are in fact quick vocal lines, from the final countdown of Sun’s Eyes to the shoo-wahs of Not a Hero and the curiously striking “black fortress, evil empire” line in Storm.

If there is a fault, it’s a slightly lackluster ending that manages to end the parade with a bit of a flat note. While the rest of the album’s secret strength lies in its vocal moments, the entirely vocal harmony based “Towers Upon Towers” feels a bit too out of place in its minimalism despite the occasional nice vocal bits. The concluding “The Dark Continent” on the other hand sounds like an album centerpiece and crucial climax in the way it thematically bookends the album by reprising the horn section of its intro while sounding like a massive final anthemic bow, but somehow it never really takes off despite attempting its best: in an album full of memorable moments, it feels a bit too toned down despite sounding humongous and obviously wanting to be the big impressive bang at the end.

That said, that’s a minor niggle on an otherwise impressive album. Solar isn’t as great as Dada Bandits but it firmly glues Rubik to be a band to really pay attention to. The reinvention of their last album wasn’t simply a fluke and the band is carrying their new sound with pride, evolving as they see fit and producing more results worth celebrating. If anything, Rubik have now sealed their place as a band where it becomes downright exciting to hear where they go next and what they will evolve into: it’s hard to think this is the final stop of their stylistic growth.

Sometimes you hear music that seems to be a celebration of imagination, where ideas have become melodies and rhythms and they party madly together. Rubik has become a band that seems to embody that.

Stream the whole thing here

Sun’s Eyes

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