By Connor Shelton
Whenever a singer puts out a solo album, there’s always a concern they will go pop and leave their band behind to rot. Prog-rock seems to be a notable exception to this phenomenon, wherein many of the genre’s top talents have balanced solo careers with their more lucrative roles as the voice of a larger institution. Side projects are to be expected from creatives who deign to stretch their wings and experiment, yet what proves striking about Einar Solberg’s ‘16’ is how perfectly it fits within the trajectory of his work with Leprous.
Conceptually, ‘16’ follows the same track of previous Leprous albums in its exploration of mental health, anxiety, and depression. As Solberg has explained it, the album documents the time “when I kind of lost my innocence and I started realising that life is serious and bad shit can happen. A lot of pretty drastic things happened within those three years. But this album is not only about the bad things. It’s also about some of the career-defining moments, like the moment I started playing with the band and began to find a community to belong to. Emotionally, I’m a bit of everything, so it covers the entire emotional spectrum!”
Considering the turbulent emotions on display across ’16,’ it’s rather fitting that Solberg took the backbone of the Leprous sound and twisted it to fit the personal narrative that plays throughout the record. It’s evident from the get-go with the haunting and moody title track. “16” finds the accomplished Norwegian composer collaborating with experimental cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, and the two are able to cook up a compelling rumination on the state of one’s mental health as the world begins to turn gray (even if the lyrics are rather oblique).
The organic instrumentation of “16” is quickly followed by the electronic “Remember Me,” whose style is expanded upon further in the pop oriented “A Beautiful Life.” Both tracks are exceptional showcases of Solberg’s vocal range, with the former offering some of the singer’s most tender vocals to date while the latter demonstrates how intense Solberg can get. It’s only fitting that these two tracks are followed by “Where All The Twigs Broke,” which allows the record to slow down and features lyrical contributions from Star of Ash (who also appears via sample usage). It’s perhaps the closest the album gets to capturing the sound and spirit of Leprous, but it never feels too derivative of Solberg’s parent band.
“Home” marks the halfway point of ‘16’ and is the first in a long line of songs to have prominent feature credits. It’s a funky bit of avant-garde pop music that could have been released as a single given how melodious and succinct the composition is. It even features a rap from Ben Levin which, while lacking the charisma and flow of mainstream rappers like Kendrick Lamar or Denzel Curry, certainly rectifies the prog genre’s relationship with hip-hop (looking at you “Roll The Bones”).
With the second half of the album, things become a bit more minimalist. “Blue Light” is far more melodically subdued than anything on the first half of ’16,’ making it a challenging listen, yet one that rewards with repeat listens. It’s followed by lead single “Grotto,” which is an easy highlight on the record thanks to the synth choices, and Magnus Børmark’s contributions. Elsewhere, “Splitting the Soul” marries the Einar’s intense growls with electronic and orchestral backing, and “Over the Top” is the ultimate slow build, a song that perfectly encapsulates the role of the penultimate track.
‘16’ concludes with the gargantuan “The Glass Is Empty,” which feels representative of all the strengths at work on the record. Musically, it’s just as dense and layered as everything else on ‘16’ given the use of strings, horns, synths, and guitar. It’s breathtaking in its beauty, especially as it builds toward the conclusion. The only downside is that the lyrics fail to match the quality of the composition. They’re by no means insufferable, but the lack of specificity throughout the 11-minute runtime dampens the emotional impact “The Glass Is Empty” could have on the listener. It’s a minor critique due to prog’s emphasis on technique over storytelling, but one that feels pertinent to ‘16’ given its focus on interior emotions. Even then, Einar Solberg is still able to make up for the lackluster set of descriptions with his poignant vocal delivery and dynamic technical display.
While it’s hard to say whether this album is more accessible than Leprous’s most recent studio offerings, it’s clear that ‘16’ is just as engrossing as Aphelion and Pitfalls. It shows that Solberg can work outside the comforts of his band and make compelling music that doesn’t just feel like a watered-down version of his previous works. Needless to say, we look forward to whatever the future holds for Solberg, whether he continues down the path of a solo artist, or as a member of Leprous.
Released on June 2nd, 2023 on InsideOutMusic
Order here: https://einarsolberg-artist.lnk.to/sixteenID
The full track-listing is as follows:
1. 16 (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
2. Remember Me
3. A Beautiful Life
4. Where All The Twigs Broke (feat. Star Of Ash)
5. Metacognitive (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
6. Home (feat. Ben Levin)
7. Blue Light (feat. Asger Mygind)
8. Grotto (feat. Magnus Børmark)
9. Splitting The Soul (feat. Ihsahn)
10. Over The Top
11. The Glass Is Empty (feat. Tóti Guðnason)
Einar Solberg – Compositions, Arrangements, Lyrics, Producer, Vocals and Keys: All tracks.
Keli Guðjónsson – Drums: All tracks
Tor Egil Kreken – Bass: All tracks
Raphael Weinroth-Browne – Cello: All Tracks. Composition: “16”
Chris Baum – Violin – All tracks
Ben Levin – Guitar: “Remember Me”, “A Beautiful Life”, “Grotto”, & “Over The Top”. Composition – “Home”
Magnus Børmark – Guitar: “Remember me”, A Beautiful Life”, “Where All The Twigs Broke”, “Grotto” & “Over The Top”. Composition & Lyrics: “Grotto”.
Tóti Guðnason – Guitar, Piano & Composition: “The Glass is Empty”.
Ihsahn – Guitar, vocals and composition: “The Soul is Splitting”. Recording Engineer: “Where All The Twigs Broke” & “The Soul is Splitting”.
Star Of Ash – Samples, lyrics & composition: “Where All The Twigs Broke”
Asger Mygind – Vocals, guitar, lyrics & composition: “Blue Lights”
Pål Gunnar Fiksdal – Trumpet: “Where All The Twigs Broke”, “Home”, “Blue Light”, “Splitting The Soul”, “Over The Top” & “The Glass Is Empty”.
Runar Fiksdal – Trombone: “Where All The Twigs Broke”, “Home”, “Blue Light”, “Splitting The Soul”, “Over The Top” and “The Glass is Empty”
Nora Hannisdal – French horn: “Remember Me”, “Where All The Twigs Broke”, “Blue Light”, “Splitting The Soul” & “Over The Top”.
Jon Henrik Rubach – Saxophone: “Home”
Þórður Sigurðarson – Church Organ: “The Glass Is Empty”
The City Of Prague Philharmonic Choir – “Splitting The Soul & The Glass is Empty”