“Solo” is in fact the first solo album from Papir guitarist Nicklas Sørensen. The similarities with the oeuvre created with his band Papir can be heard, but only from a distance. On this album the Copenhagen native focuses on the exploration of guitar soundscapes. He does enlist the help of the Papir rhythm section, along with Causa Sui’s Jonas Monk, but the intent appears to have been to make an ambient album mixed with ethereal sounds and dream-like visions. And on some levels he does succeed. There are some nice touches to be heard, especially when after repeated listens… the music grows on you, its hidden depths revealing themselves gradually. It takes time to reveal the little gems, but what it doesn’t do is cover up the poor aspects of the album.
Six original compositions make up the album; simply titled “Solo 1-6”. So let’s start at the beginning with the opening track, unsurprisingly titled “Solo 1” – and with it, my biggest bugbear with this album. Whilst there are moments and entire passages even, of lovingly crafted contemplative music to be heard on this release, for me, the whole conceptual feel and essence of the album is let down badly by the need to put a track like “Solo 1” on the recording. It just doesn’t do anything to introduce the listener to the music that lies ahead. Basically it’s a very average upbeat tune that lacks any kind of originality or purpose. It offers very little and delivers even less. So now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the album proper. “Solo 2” begins with a meditative drum beat, laying the foundation for the guitarist to play some lovely, bright yet sparse chords, over which a tune gradually develops. As with most of the album, Sørensen uses the standard guitarist’s toolkit nicely, utilising some nice delays, reverbs and echoes, among other things, to create atmospheres that shimmer, sparkle and fade. It’s pretty simple stuff really, and initially not particularly involving, but after a few listens I did let go of something…not sure what, but suddenly it all sounded so much more ‘whole’. The sounds cascade, rise and fall, twisting and turning as they go, like little stories trying to break free into a bigger, more meaningful novel. “Solo 3” has a great vibe to it. The use of synths on this track works particularly well, combining with the guitar sounds to create an almost Pat Metheny-esque / Tangerine Dream-like landscape of journeying sound. Definitely one of the best tracks on the album, it shows that the skill of the composer is there and that when things work, they work magnificently. A lusciously ethereal sound envelops the listener on “Solo 4”. Some beautifully crafted reverse delay adds an otherworldly ambient feel to the tune. The composer has the skill and confidence to just let the tune drift, in quite a beautiful way I might add. There’s nothing forced or Ill-conceived on this piece, its simplicity allowing the listener to sit back, breath slowly, and enjoy the subtleties that grace this fine piece of music. “Solo 5”, although perhaps more melodic, loses the flow somewhat. It just doesn’t work as well as some of the other tracks, sounding a bit like Sørensen feeling the need to add in some pretty uninspiring soloing, with the drums sounding more like a 1980’s backbeat than anything of musical meaning. “Solo 6”, the longest piece on the album, is a slow burner. There’s a quiet grace to this tune that I really like. As with the other good tracks, it has room to breathe, allowing a natural atmosphere to be created. Nothing’s rushed, the music has the time and space to speak for itself. There’s a lovely warmth and ambience, dream-like in nature, letting the listener drift off to wherever the music takes them. The synths and drums combine perfectly with Sørensen’s guitar, and even as the tune twists in on itself into slightly avant-garde, experimental territory, it all works superbly well. The heartbeat runs deep through the tune, never ceasing, whilst the changes come and go around it, probing, searching, discovering. A brilliant piece of music to end the album.
A mixed mag then, “Solo”. A couple of tracks stand out as brilliant 5 star pieces of music, whilst a couple more are extremely forgettable 1 star duds. And the remaining numbers sit bang in the middle. With some spellbinding passages of true brilliance, it’s very frustrating that the album is so unbalanced with the inclusion of some annoying mediocrity. But maybe that’s what making music is, and should be, all about… being brave enough to try something new. And ultimately accepting that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. I can certainly live with that, it’s well worth it in order to hear the bits that do work, exceptionally well.