Kangding Ray - Solens Arc

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  • When David Letellier, AKA Kangding Ray, released his first album, Stabil, you could hardly have guessed he would later make something like Solens Arc. With its keenly fashioned melodies and crackling percussion, Stabil made sense on Raster-Noton, but it was also surprisingly soothing for such a severe label. Since then, Letellier's moved closer to the German outfit's greyscale palette, albeit with enough melody left to mark out his own identity. OR, his album from three years ago, was a conceptual techno LP that questioned the mechanisms by which society develops. Solens Arc is the next step in this evolution, with four-to-the-floor techno tracks set among beatless, synth-led passages. This time, the concept is more structural. Four "arcs," each comprising several tracks, make up the album—perhaps partly to honour the vinyl format, judging by the way each arc occupies one side. But Letellier knows where the concept's influence should end. He uses it merely as a framework, and the arcs' trajectories feel expressive rather than calculated. "Serendipity March" begins the first arc with sparse and murky kicks. "The River" provides an interlude before the driving techno of "Evento." The next sequence starts and ends with beatless passages, and has the whirring stomp of "Blank Empire" in the middle. Just as each arc has a trajectory, so too does the album as a whole. It starts with the anticipation of the first arc, goes through an evanescent second and climactic third, finally concluding with the fourth arc, which feels like the epilogue to a tragedy. How Letellier achieved this layered format has, no doubt, something to do with his iterative production process, during which the tracks are repeatedly adjusted to realise an overall schema. All of this is complemented by Letellier's cinematic sense of grandeur. The synthesisers often sound like they've been taken out of a Vangelis soundtrack and played in a cathedral. The gritty rhythms, meanwhile, are deconstructed into sculptures of static. The tracks themselves act as individual scenes, ones that we're led through with subtle motions and variations. Vague motifs recur throughout, tying each part of the album together. Letellier appears more comfortable working with the album format than with the single track. It gives his statements room to expand. And having moved through different styles in his career, he brings a broad outlook to a genre that's often treated narrow-mindedly. With Solens Arc, these things have helped him realise the full potential of a techno album. Expansive yet engaging, conceptual yet approachable, it's a remarkable achievement.
  • Tracklist
      01. Serendipity 02. The River 03. Evento 04. The River (Reprise) 05. Blank Empire 06. L'envol 07. Amber Decay 08. Apogee 09. History of Obscurity 10. Crystal 11. Transitional Ballistics 12. Son