Solvent SolventSubject To Shift
There are reasons to believe that Jason Amm lives apart from the world, in his own utopia. The Solvent project has been active since 1997 –it was born at the same time as Suction, the label that he founded in Vancouver along with his partner and sort of sound twin, Gregory de Rocher, alias Lowfish . And since that day, what has changed is… absolutely nothing. In “Subject To Shift” all of the themes that are the cornerstones of Solvent’s singularity on the electronic scene reappear: total devotion to the analogue, primitive equipment of synth-pop, a taste for melodies sung with a vocoder that border on being kitsch, revival movements in the direction of italo, minimal wave, and cosmic disco. What has been the all-too-typical sound on the hipster circuit, and continues to be so, in part—look at labels like Italians Do It Better– for Solvent continue to be the same old routine, the utopia that we mentioned above, consisting of believing that the age of the ingenuous discovery of electronic pop can be perpetuated not only in one’s memory, but also in their actions and everyday surroundings. Solvent started like this, with the albums of Depeche Mode, Ultravox, and Kraftwerk, and spent half of the previous decade underground, until Ghostly rescued it for its most widely-disseminated album, “Elevators And Oscillators” (2005).
And there it is. Five years have passed, in which Solvent has barely stuck its nose out of hiding, and we have the same album again as if it were different, made in the same way, and without the underlying influences having changed. At most there is one new thing: the infiltration of acid house sounds in “Formulate”, and all with one result: what we already know. Zero surprises. The same style that made “Solvent City” (Morr Music, 2001) a jewel of naïf electro-pop nearly a decade ago, demonstrating that there was life beyond Europe – Bochum Welt and D’Arcangelo were the reference– in the cold lands of Canada. Amm, therefore, doesn’t move from his territory, maybe because going outside would mean doing it without a compass, without a map, without a motivation. So the same “Formulate” that had an acid bass line comes close as well to the powerful, muscular rhythms of the old Hi-Nrg, as if it wanted to be the small indie version of the giant Bobby O. And if we listen closely to “Caught A Glimpse” , the construction of the song, with the omnipresent vocoder and those keyboards that seem to be sending out clouds of steam, reminds one a lot of Depeche Mode’s “New Life”. Taking Solvent out of the 80’s sound would be like if you stop watering a plant—it wouldn’t survive.
In any case, one must appreciate the evident flexibility of Solvent’s movements. It sticks with the first electronic sound applied to pop and disco music, but he isn’t a producer who holds tight to his own cliché. Along with songs with a space-disco aesthetic like “Loss For Words” –which has something of “World Invaders” by Pluton & Humanoids– there are also others that hark back to the electro of auteurs like Man Parrish – “No One Should Be Living Here”– or back to the dark and evolved electro of the first Detroit wave that really inspired him deep down: “Take Me Home” is the sum of Drexciya, John Carpenter and Kraftwerk. Solvent definitely dominates the code that he has stuck to, and every album is, above all, a demonstration of abilities. He seems to say, “If you want retro, I’m going to give you the best retro sound that you can hear today.” That makes him a cult producer (or maybe it’s just his niche, I’m not sure)—but even the good vibe it gives off, and the correctness of its final results, should not disguise a reality that must also be emphasised: thirteen years is a long time, a long time repeating the same joke without variations, a practice that is making Solvent into a sort synth movement fossil. Is he really incapable of turning over a new leaf? Richard Ellmann