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Finally released from the artistic pressure and unrelenting hype surrounding his full-length debut (1997's Modus Operandi), Photek producer Rupert Parkes moved on to embrace Chicago acid house and minimal techno for his sophomore Solaris. Whereas Modus Operandi portrayed an artist trapped within the style he'd pioneered (paranoid drum'n'bass), Solaris sounds more like an album Parkes actually wanted to make (instead of the one his fans expected). Indebted to hard-edged Chicago acid track producers like Adonis and Armando, Parkes constructed brittle, distorted drum-machine breaks (instead of the usual endlessly tweaked skittery breakbeats) and matched them with claustrophobic analog effects, most of which hark back at least a decade or so. Parkes also made the acid house connections direct by enlisting help for two vocal tracks from Chicago institution Robert Owens (Fingers Inc.). The first Owens track, "Mine to Give," attacks with suprisingly unwavering beats and a rumbling bassline straight out of the Windy City sound of the late '80s. The other Owens contribution, a smooth production named "Can't Come Down," is more reminiscent of Parkes' productions for LTJ Bukem's Good Looking Records (like the atmospheric jungle classic "Pharaoh"). In fact, only one track here ("Infinity") flirts with the drum'n'bass darkside fans and critics had pigeonholed Photek in, though there's an undeniable air of paranoia and menace throughout the album. Near the end, Parkes even salutes the growing legion of experimental-techno producers with a trio of excellent minimalist down-tempo tracks: an ambient isolationist track named "Aura" and two brittle trip-hop productions, "Halogen" and "Almost Blue Heaven" (the latter with vocals from Simone Simone). For better (and occasionally for worse), Solaris is just as dense and intensive a package as Photek's previous work. Still, the range of styles points to a more ambitious future.

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