SOLSTICE – Light Up (Album Review)

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What a wonderful surprise to discover this new album from Solstice, lighting up like a summer’s breeze even in the thick of winter. Before we dig in, let’s confirm which Solstice we’re talking about as there’s a few bands out there with that name. No, this is not the death metal Miami-based band, nor the English doom metal version of Solstice. However, this particular Solstice are indeed from England, Milton Keynes to be exact, starting out over 40 years ago during the second wave of prog-rock. Despite several extended pauses throughout their career, the band has continued to evolve and reinvent themselves over the decades, always with guitarist Andy Glass at the helm. Their latest renaissance started in 2020 with the release of the impressive “Sia”, now quickly followed by their 7th album “Light Up” with the same band lineup.

While Solstice’s origins stretch back to 1980, the new album reveals plenty of youthful energy bursting forth from the 6 tracks herein. The title track is a perfect opener for this sunny outing, buoyed by singer Jess Holland’s sprightly vocals which make each song shine. Holland is a delight throughout the recording, at times straying outside of familiar English lyrics to convey the energy of the material. On this track “Light Up” she establishes herself in the opening notes and never lets go while Pete Hemsley’s drum kit surrounds the listener with exciting grooves. Robin Phillips lays down a solid bass foundation which suggests a bit of funk as Steven McDaniel’s organ playing adds to the percolating rhythms. Solstice has always featured the violin as a key ingredient, originally offered by Marc Elton and now ably performed by Jenny Newman who elevates each piece – including this opening song – with her playing.

“Wongle No. 9” follows up with a truly funky groove that makes it impossible to sit still. Phillips’ bass playing is infectious, and Holland’s playful vocals woo the listener in with each twist and turn. Honestly, this song is completely addictive and may end up being one of my favorites of the year (though we’re barely out of January), it Wongles you up and won’t let go. Glass dominates the latter part of the song with an incendiary guitar solo, reminding the listener that this is his band even amidst such a wealth of talent. “Mount Emphraim” brings Newman more to the fore with a joyous Celtic feel as we scale the heights. Holland’s voice offers double-tracked verses and a swooning chorus while McDaniel plays a good supporting role on his synths but eventually gets to come more to the fore at the end, intertwining leads with Glass.

“Light Up” Album Artwork

The proceedings finally slow down for a moment on the ironically titled “Run”. Glass lays down a shimmering, transcendent progression for Holland to offer her enchanting vocals on top of. Oddly, the guitar seems a bit behind the beat at times and almost moves too tentatively, threatening to bring the song to a standstill until the electronic percussion assures that the time signature will be adhered to. Still, it’s a beautiful track especially once it builds during the latter half. “Home” is another luscious piece, Holland’s voice dropping Celtic trills amidst tender lyrics. It progresses organically, held together by Hemsley’s attentive and generous percussive approach.

Which brings us to the epic closer “Bulbul Tarang”, named for a Punjabi instrument from India. The title instrument offers an alluring drone intro to the 10-minute piece but soon we journey into a wide spectrum of colors and sounds on this gorgeous composition. Sweet harmony vocals, soaring guitar leads and very tasteful accompaniment from the other band members make this Floyd-inspired track an album highlight. When they break into a key change in the final minute, it lifts the song even higher with Yes-like grandeur.

“Light Up” makes an ideal starting point for the newcomer while also being an impressive feather in the cap of a 40+ year career. Despite their extensive history, even wooing in Steven Wilson as an early fan, Solstice flies under the radar of much of the modern prog-rock community. That deserves to be remedied and “Light Up” is one more prime reason why.

Released By: Giant Electric Pea Records
Release Date: November 6th, 2022
Genre:  Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Andy Glass / Guitar, vocals
  • Jenny Newman / Violin
  • Pete Hemsley / Drums
  • Jess Holland / Vocals
  • Robin Phillips / Bass
  • Steven McDaniel / Keyboards, vocals

“Light Up” Track-listing​:

1. Light Up (5:39)
2. Wongle No. 9 (7:14)
3. Mount Ephraim (5:59)
4. Run (8:14)
5. Home (6:42)
6. Bulbul Tarang (10:24)

8.9 Excellent

Sounding like a fresh, young band ready to take the world by storm, the revitalized Solstice builds on their 40-years of experience with this gem of a record. The 6-piece band serves up a bevy of bright, sunny material on “Light Up” which can whisk away the winter doldrums and put the listener in a better frame of mind. Paired with excellent musicianship and one of the best new female voices around, Solstice are clearly in their prime

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9
  • Originality 8.5
  • Production 9
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