A Retrospective On Pia Fraus: In Solarium (Clairecords, 2002)
With In Solarium, the second full-length album released by the Estonian dreampop wonders Pia Fraus, I want to continue my retrospective on the band as they head toward releasing their first new album in almost a decade. As I noted in my piece on their first album, Wonder What It’s Like, the band at the time seemed to have yet to find their signature sound in full. The band moved in and out of what would become that Pia Fraus sound we all know and love. Well, it didn’t take long for them to find that focus and on In Solarium, the band seems to have birthed its dreampop central sound. It’s an album that holds together, is consistent, and, quite frankly, seems timeless. Nothing seems out of date here (whatever that means) and the music is magical even today. From the very first note on “400&57”, which opens the album, it is clear that the listener is in for something special. Also, important in the history of this album is the fact that Dan Sostrom of Clairecords recognized the greatness in the band and signed them to his label. Pia Fraus joined the label alongside bands such as Monster Movie, Stella Luna, Astrobrite, and Mahogany in the early years of what would become a dreampop/shoegaze label unrivaled by any others at the time. Ok, enough of the general accolades and let’s turn to individual tracks.
The album opens with one click of the drum sticks and then that dreamy, warbly guitar sound so central to Pia Fraus’ signature sonics. “400&57” also has those signature synths floating about throughout the track. The percussion work is bright and airy with subtle bass work holding the whole together. I should note that the band still consisted of Rein Fuks (guitar, vocals, percussion), Reijo Tagapere (bass), Kärt Ojavee (synth, organ), Kristel Loide (Eplik) (vocals), Joosep Volk (drums), and Tõnis Kenkmaa (guitar). By this time, the band members were around 18 years of age but their music doesn’t betray their youth. “400&57” may have been many people’s introductions to this band, as it was mine, and I can tell you that it instantly endeared me to the band as it must have done many others. I think one more thing needs to be mentioned about this opening track, of which I am spending far too many words on. Fuks and Loide’s vocals are just dreamy and the harmonies perfectly executed. Another piece of the Pia Fraus puzzle that would stick with the band for a long time.
“400&57” is followed by “Right Hand Traffic”. It begins with an electronic voice saying the name of the song, which repeats again. The slightly out of phase guitars warble here and there as ghostly synths dance over syncopated percussion lines. The melody here is mesmerizing and really sticks in your head in a good way. “How Fast Can You Love” is an energetic piece with Loide returning on vocals with her dreampop exquisite tone. This is an organ heavy song, playing with bright melodies that bounce off the guitars as they play through the speakers. It’s an infectious groove that gets the head bobbing. Fast on the heels of “How Fast Can You Love” is “Outskirts of Me” with its fuzzy edged bass and louder, brighter percussion. Fuks and Loide harmonize beautifully once again and occasionally take solo lines. By this time in the album, if you weren’t hooked with “400&57”, you had to be in love with it. That fuzzy bass, by the way, decides to rebel at the end of the song. As the rest of the band fades, it holds on, refusing to give up until forced to fade away. It’s magnificent, in a stubborn sort of way.
“No Need for Sanity” slows things down a bit, with fuzzy edged guitars and a sort of pocketed groove and slinky bass. The bass really does sit at the center of the track as it leads the guitars into melodies. Guitars shimmer and shake as they move in and out of their various tonal qualities. The vocals are those breathy type of vocals that almost feel like they are simply talking to you. Synths come in and out of the aural framework to add more bright textures. If one is listening to the vinyl, this is the end of side A and Side B starts with the 70’s throw back, organ laden “Octobergirl”. High-hat dances as guitars court the melody in the backdrop. There is an almost disco feel here (and I mean almost). This is a exquisite pop track and opens the B side to the album with greatness.
“The End of Time and Space Like We Used to Know it Is After You Have Finished Your Tea Approximately At 5:07PM” is, indeed, the title of the seventh track on In Solarium. The title betrays the song’s sound though as it is a quintessential dreampop piece with all the tight, poppy structures one expects from bands in the genre. Of course, it’s Pia Fraus, so there are few who could do it so well. “Bibabo” is fanciful and playful with warbling synths and strumming guitars. There’s definitely some experimentation going on here with the guitars as they shimmer and create a dense, almost foreboding layer. There’s also some percussive sounds on this track that are hard to pin down but they add a certain layer to the texture that is exciting.
“On You” is the penultimate song on In Solarium and it is a medium paced piece with hypnotic guitars that thrum in a repetitive pattern. The vocals are a floating melody that move slower than the music itself, giving an almost drugged out feel. It’s incredible to turn “On You” up in the headphones and close your eyes. You can really feel the tempo exchanges between the guitars, percussion, bass and the way the vocals are utilized. “Zodalovers” ends this incredibly important album with another energetic song. Bright cymbals are tapped in time as deep bass creates a floor, and guitars strum along. The vocals, as usual, are perfection and dreamy. Here, Fuks takes the lead on the mic. It’s a perfect ending to this sophomore record for the band.
In Solarium, I think, is where Pia Fraus really finds their central identity as a band. From start to finish, they move through a certain sound that is cohesive, whole, and sounds, well, like them. Of course, this is in hindsight, but it’s clear that this very early album in the band’s catalog was a period of cementing their sound and showcasing their brilliance. If you don’t have a copy of In Solarium, I highly recommend you pick up a vinyl copy. You can get one at Tonevendor stateside or follow the link to the band’s bandcamp below to buy it through the Seksound label (Rein Fuks’ label in Estonia).
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