Solar Maximum

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The chrome hand and alien vista that grace the cover of Majeure's second album, Solar Maximum, capture A.E. Paterra's devotion to vintage electro-prog nearly as well as the music itself. Tracks like "Geneva Spur," which rides an energetic bassline and a propulsive beat that's too controlled to be called frenetic, could have just as easily come from 1978 as from 2012. While Solar Maximum is less dance-oriented than Majeure's debut, Timespan, and perhaps even closer to what Paterra does with Steve Moore as Zombi, it still has its own unique spin on prog's electronic side, à la Tangerine Dream and Cluster. It also recalls the venerable synth rock band Trans Am's ability to conjure sleek, often dystopian visions of a future that never arrived, especially on the opening track "Maximum Overture," which uses hypnotic arpeggios that also evoke Vangelis and John Carpenter to set the scene for the rest of the album's moody excursions. Paterra wrote, recorded, and produced Solar Maximum entirely on his own, and while it would be easy for a lot of artists to get indulgent or lost in the process using such a solitary approach, he keeps a crystalline focus on each track that prevents even the widest-ranging pieces from becoming fussy or dull. That's especially important given just how big most of these songs are; the majestic title track passes the 11-minute mark. While the arpeggios on "Overture" were solid and trance-inducing, on "Solar Maximum" they flutter with anticipation, shifting in pitch and tempo in a way that allows the song's more languid melody to join and separate from them with an almost dancerly grace. The drums that finally kick in halfway through the track bring everything together in dynamic lockstep, but as technical and precise as "Solar Maximum" is, it's also surprisingly emotional, moving from vibrant to urgent to poignant throughout its arc. The wide range of moods Solar Maximum covers also kicks things up several notches from Timespan, whether it's the luminous serenity of "Extreme Northern Lights," the playful wobble of "Caribbean King" -- which boasts a loping beat that sounds like a time-stretched island rhythm -- or the spacious drift of the closing track, "Solar Maximum 2." While the album is satisfyingly epic, Paterra's real artistry is in how he brings listeners back down to earth frequently enough so they don't get lost in space.

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