In Solarium by Pia Fraus (Review)

The Estonian group shamelessly blends the best of My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and Stereolab.
In Solarium, Pia Fraus

As a music critic, one of my favorite weapons in the ol’ arsenal is the term “derivative.” If you don’t like something, you just drop the ol’ “D Bomb,” thoroughly proving your deep musical knowledge, as well as the band’s ineptness. Now, I normally try to reserve that sort of drastic measure for special cases, such as any pop-punk band ripping off Green Day ripping off The Ramones. But sometimes I get taken down a peg, when I realize that much of the music I like is pretty derivative as well.

Take, for instance, Pia Fraus. Anyone familiar with My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless or Lush’s Spooky-era output will immediately recognize this young Estonian group’s lineage. In fact, pull aside some of your friends and play Lush’s “Superblast!” followed by, say, “The End of Time and Space Like We Used to Know It Is After You Have Finished Your Tea Approximately at 5:07 pm” (whew… I wished I got paid by the word for these reviews), and dare them to tell one from the other. And when they pile on the Stereolab-ish synth-noodling (think more Dots and Loops than Sound-Dust) on tracks like “How Fast Can You Love,” the influences become all that more blatant.

Of course, none of that stopped me from smiling from ear to ear as soon as “400 & 57” launched itself from the speakers. Or when I heard that graceful bassline underscoring “No Need for Sanity.” Or whenever Kristel Loide’s detached vocals could be heard from underneath a mile of fuzzy guitars, farfisas, and synths. In fact, nothing stopped me from having a silly grin on my face the first couple of times I heard it, or from moving my body to the propulsive rhythm of “Octobergirl.”

Perhaps what keeps this from feeling like another rehash is how joyfully the band seems to follow their influences, with nary a care in the world. Most people associate dreampop/shoegazer music with fairly dreary imagery; rainy days, overcast skies, wintry evenings, and the like. But the exuberant melodies and hooks in In Solarium’s songs rebel against that sort of imagery, something that was driven home as I was driving back to Lincoln one night. The skies had been fairly overcast, and yet in the west, the sun was beginning to slip under the cloud cover. As it did, the entire sky seemed to catch fire and melt the clouds away.

For one brief instant, as the road curved, the sun sat right in front of me, turning the interstate into a river of gold. For one brief instant, as Pia Fraus floated out of the speakers, I drove into the sun.

And there’s nothing derivative about that.

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