Review: Kangding Ray – Solens Arc LP

Solens Arc arrives at an enthralling time for the techno album; the most widely-discussed LPs seem to have had at least a vague direction, from Actress’ inner city transliterations to Perc’s lamentative narration of politics and addiction to power. Spit approached the dark corners of ‘civilisation’, and the album was doubly en vogue due to the shabby analogue sound Ron Morelli himself has shepherded as the scene’s spotlight illuminated his label. On the other hand, Holden’s The Inheritors was more of the mad-scientist analogue variety rather than gritty-gumshoe, with looser bearings of an archaeological fashion as opposed to directly achieving a defined objective. Kangding Ray, the alias of David Letellier, came from a background of post-rock to contribute to Rastar-Noton’s minimal, experimental pop aesthetic though his mechanic creations are somewhat rusted this time round – Solens Arc is Letellier taking a step to the outside. True to Raster-Noton’s philosophy in a release as a holistic entity, Solens Arc is a wondrously literal affair for an album with minimal and unintelligible vocals. The press release introduces it as “a stone thrown, just to watch it fly” and indeed the sleeve depicts several parabolae adorning an overcast landscape. The tracklist itself is quartered into different arcs, each a chapter to the album’s overarching series, matching to the four sides of the double-LP (very thoughtful). Each arc differs in structure and composition, though all slot into Letellier’s concept of firing frequencies into the air and following wherever they’d take him, letting his tools take point.

With four threads of autonomous existence, just listening to the arcs in their order on the tracklist is reductive. Instead, each piece tackles independent themes of the overall voyage with an internal fluidity only. The first thread of the yarn mostly considers movement. It begins with rattling pulses grinding against a drowsy kick like gears set in motion after an age of slumber. The snoring doesn’t seem to halt despite the waking of “Serendipity March”, with a sparse vocal sample that literally breathes life into the beat. By the end of the arc such sluggishness is long absent from memory thanks to the first encounter of something remotely dancefloor. Even “The River”, the catalyst that bridges “Serendipity March” and “Evento”, is kept short, a mercurial glint of crystallised, sharp-synth sunshine with instant impact. Whilst the track is used to utmost efficiency in the first arc, its reprieve peels open the second arc with patience. Less focused on progressing and more preoccupied with immediate surroundings, “Blank Empire” takes the time to explore what “Evento” might have been. Shuffles of percussion that would sound right at home on Sunklo skip over a blaring, droning buzz, wrapped in oscillating skidmarks that veer in and out of focus before the atmosphere is escaped and all turbulence dissipates. This zenith, “L’envol” (The Flight), shimmers with arpeggiations, a moment to stop and stare and be overwhelmed and feel fulfilled. It’s followed up by the third arc which possesses the most sinister start so do feel free to hesitate swapping plates – there’s no turning back now.

Stream: Kangding Ray – Black Empire (Raster-Noton)

The final arcs share yin-yang symbioticism contemplating the unknown and then the known at a molecular level, just as the first two arcs are counterparts in racing through life and stopping to smell the flowers. “Apogee” is the piece which arc three revolves around, astronomically referring to the stage where an entity in orbit is furthest away from that which anchors it. The track is all synths, whirring and hissing and emanating solemn, ambient significance. It’s flanked by a straight-faced, abrasive club expedition with kicks of reduced surface impact and a faintly twinkling dial loop, as well as “History of Obscurity”, a cautious plunge into the dark side of the moon with chimes gradually refracting through it into nothingness. The three pieces that form the final sequence scrutinise the mechanical aspect of tracing trajectories. “Transitional Ballistics” refers to studying the window where a bullet leaves the muzzle of the gun and its propelling forces of gas disperse into the environment – as a track it really delves into the bowels of machinations, motoring between percussive textures as a menacing rattle looms overhead. Even the sound of water dripping onto cold steel enters after a point, a precursor to the delicate chords that begin to flourish towards the end. “Crystal” is so near it seems distant, a sparkling loop reminiscent of Tim Hecker’s Virgins albeit in a space opera context.

Stream: Kangding Ray – History of Obscurity (Raster-Noton)

Solens Arc draws to a close under ambiguous circumstances, spurred by the most organic drum inflections present on the album. Concluding section “Son” is dressed in a mutated sci-fi melody that could have been lifted from the 90s, and its by no means the first instance as the entire release implicitly hints at past musings, more future-retroism than retro-futurism. Gazing at the trail Solens Arc leaves in the sky is undoubtedly enjoyable, however the ripples eventually fade and we’re left to wonder where things actually went; Letellier’s targetless endeavours result in no ultimate closure, though this certainly proposes we question our approach not just to creating music but to listening too. Besides, each individual arc had their own closing and there’s no implication they account for the entire path of the stone thrown. Regardless of the inexplicit ending, there’s no sense of unfulfillment due to Letellier’s hybrid compromise between retaining structure and resigning to whim. A common pitfall for instinct-led albums is a lack of cohesiveness to glue together an abundance of ideas, but by approaching this style from a place of discipline, Letellier’s album is that much more effective, poignant and graceful. Solens Arc. Just watch it fly.

Kangding Ray’s Solens Arc LP is out now on Raster-Noton. Buy the double LP here.

Words by Tayyab Amin.