Based just South of the Arctic Circle, I’ve grown through persistent cold and seemingly everlasting winters, shrouded in meters of snow and the particular mental languish it can inflict on a person who otherwise enjoys the warmth and sun. During my older years I’ve picked up a habit of spending the darkest times of the year with some exceptional, oftentimes ethereal and emotionally lush music. This winter was no different, but I got something extraordinary and powerful offered to me by surprise – an album of exceptional measures, which I’m now delighted to present the full premiere for.
Frédéric D. Oberland, the French avant-garde musician perhaps better known from his post-everything collective Oiseaux-Tempête, is gearing up to release his new solo full-length on the 3rd of March, and together with him and zamzamrec, we’re bringing you the advanced stream of the magnificently hypnotic and moving Solstices today! Plunge into its dreamy oceans from below, and join me to dissect its vivacious and exhilarating sonics afterwards;
My love for the mentioned Oiseaux-Tempête is no trifling sentiment, and my scribings of them for our Weekly Featured Artist article or the review of their latest album should act as something of a testament to that fact. While the band is more of a collective with varying personnel giving their input to each release, Oberland has always came across as its primus motor of sorts. With that said, I have to admit I’ve only briefly glanced into his other doings, and it turns out I’ve led a happy life of missing out with that.
Solstices is Oberland’s fourth solo album, tailing the 2021’s Même Soleil and some single/guest spot appearances from last year. The artist has kept himself unbelievably busy throughout his career, with various bands not limited to the mentioned ones, including plenty of soundtrack and collaboratiok works. Even though Solstices isn’t entirely bereft of collaborations, it boldly underlines Oberland’s individual self unlike any of his other projects, and fetches its initial main appeal from that aspect. I said ‘initial’, because as soon as you hit play, it’s the music that hooks you in and lures you to its overwhelming embrace time and time again.
Being composed and performed entirely live on two separate occasions, Solstices‘ main emphasis lies on Oberland’s multi-instrumentalist tendencies and the vast scope of tonalities he explores with ease throughout its duration. The album’s main motif lies somewhere amidst eclectic ambient/drone music with electronic and spatial psych components being heavily strewn around to truly give it a magical and floating vibe, further ratified by an intimate late 80s/early 90s synth tints that pushes the listener into a liminal territory mentally; everything sounds novel and fresh, yet somehow familiar and accustomed. I guess you could say that Solstices sounds like meeting an old friend decades after you’ve last seen each other, and together recount all the immense things that happened to you since. You simultaneously know that you know them while realising that you certainly don’t, not anymore at least.
Opening with the thirteen-minute “Panspermia Pneuma”, rattling bells capture your attention before the sampled speech of one Stephen Hawking rises to proclaim some harsh truths to you, as the music slowly evolves around it. Beforelong, you’re fully immersed in a spacious lap of lulling melancholic sounds that put your lacrimal ducts through a serious test. The second “À Notre Nuit” carries the theme forth with a glacial pace, utilizing a bit more sense of rhythm via electronics while exceeding on an introspective manner. More foreboding and ominous than its predecessor, “À Notre Nuit” is by no means vicious by tone, but by atmosphere it’s certainly more vehement. At this point I must point out that the production/mix of the album is absolutely stellar, and falls into the type of ear candy category most people do (or should) enjoy by default.
“Quatre Épaves d’Acier” is an intermezzo of sorts, swathing the listener with a sweet and harmonious mood gathered from warmly crackling drones and wavering emotional synths, between the longer tracks. I said that Solstices is mixed to perfection, but especially this track, alongside the following two, show how impeccable the sound design department is altogether. You simply fail to understand how one person conjures these sounds in a live setting as did I, but sometimes it’s better to enjoy the details and nuances rather than to focus on the how side of it.
The second to last track “Worst Case Scenario” is tonally the exact opposite of its title, as the song proceeds with an overall positive mien and instrumentation that’s more animate than it is sullen, providing some interesting juxtaposition for the first three tracks. At the end you can hear the audience clap and cheer, marking how the four first tracks were recorded during a separate perforfmance from the fifth. This last track, “Cosmos Bou Dellif 2.3” – recorded live at the butcher’s market at the Gabès Cinema Festival in Tunisia – features Awled Fayala, and emerges as the most band-esque song of the bunch, serving as an appropriate closer for Solstices. As a listener, it’s easy to imagine yourself amidst the audience witnessing the last performance on Earth delivered by the Finale of Man Orchestra, before the globe implodes and everyone’s jettisoned into the unfathomable canvas of space, ending to where “Panspermia Pneuma” started, aptly coming a full circle.
For all intents and purposes, I wanted to keep this premiere piece succinct and easily readable, but clearly failed on that. Luckily it doesn’t matter, as long as it convinces you to listen to this brilliant album and acquire it in one format or the other over at Bandcamp. Do yourself a favour and dig into Frédéric D. Oberland‘s other endeavours as well, in order to avoid missing out on some truly great things.
Promo photos by Rebecca Deubner