With three successful full-length albums behind them in their home of Helsinki, Finland, synthpop act Rubik attempts to be the first Finnish band to cross over into international pop consciousness since Hanoi Rocks. For their impressive North American debut, Solar, Rubik pulls off an electropop record that manages to touch on so many of Phoenix’s and of Montreal’s buoyant, poppy qualities without ever dipping into the cloying territory that other similar-sounding artists are often found guilty of entering.
A 20-second burst of horn fanfare gives way to World Around You, beginning a wild, multi-layered surge of dance rock that barely lets up over the album’s superb first half. Wave goodbye to the glory days, and say hello to the darkness, is half-whispered, half-sung over the top of a bright synth hook and a danceable bass line that clash with the song’s surprisingly dark lyrics. Sun’s Eyes gets a bit more twee, with a funkier bass line added into the mix and a repeated, singsong count-up coming at the song’s end. Storm in a Glass of Water is a seven-minute mini-marathon packed with catchy choruses and proggy instrumental shifts. The lyrics spell out imagery of black fortresses, cemeteries, and ships caught in storms while the music grooves along in mostly upbeat guitar work and drum rolls. Solar Death March (In Octaves) continues this trend by adding hand claps and delicate, finger-picked guitar work to back up the woe-and-desperation lyrical subject matter. For a country whose northernmost regions see frigid winters without a sunrise for up to two months at a time, it’s not surprising that Finland’s pop music can be rather gloomy.
If there’s a fault that begs to be noted, it’s the album’s lack of cohesion. The songs on Solar start to lose energy and blend together after the album hits its summit right around the 20-minute mark. But that’s hardly a complaint in the age of auto-shuffle, especially when these first six tracks just kick. The album starts in a swift, unrestrained upward climb as each song builds upon the foundation laid by the previous one; it’s just a bit disappointing when the descent from Solar‘s thrilling peak comes way too soon.