Triumph from tragedy: The Posies ‘Solid States’

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The Posies. Photo by Dot Pierson

The Posies. Photo by Dot Pierson

Not many bands with nearly three decades of rock ‘n’ roll tenure can successfully redefine their sound, resulting in an album that is a career high point. Even fewer bands can accomplish such a herculean task while dealing with the deaths of two members in the span of less than one year. Yet that is exactly what The Posies did with their eighth album “Solid States,” a masterful display of musical evolution by longtime friends and musical collaborators Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer.

Last year the band’s drummer, Darius Minwalla, unexpectedly passed away and earlier this year the band’s bassist, Joe Skyward, succumbed to cancer. Their deaths could have been reason for the Posies to re-enter the hiatus they took in 1998, which lasted seven years. Instead Stringfellow and Auer soldiered on, crafting 12 beautiful songs while reinventing the sounds of The Posies. “Solid States” finds the band grieving the loss of two close friends while also blossoming under such a heavy weight.

The Posies’ sharp change in musical direction is immediately noticeable with the introductory notes of album opener “We R Power.” Faint electronic drums lead into a keyboard and other electronic sounds accompanied by live drums and guitar. This combination of electronic backing tracks with live instrumentation sets the stage for what’s to come for the rest of the album as the band dials down the guitars and ups the drum machines, synths, keys and electronic backing tracks.

While the electronic soundscapes that create the backbone of “Solid States’” are vast departures from the guitar-driven power pop The Posies are known for, they also create a fresh environment for Stringfellow and Auer to explore; and the pair thrive in the change. Yes “Solid States” is a power pop album, it’s just not the type of power pop you’d expect from the duo that brought you the tongue-in-cheek, crunchy, fuzzy riffs of ‘90s MTV staple “Flavor of the Month.”

There’s undeniable dance beats on “The Definition” and “M Doll” and the infectious groove of “Unlikely Places” and the bouncy, plinging chimes of “March Climes” will put pep into your step. Elsewhere lead single “Squirrel vs Snake” touches on some political themes and “Titanic” offers up a string of singalong “hey oh, hey ohs.”

The losses of Minwalla and Skyward are addressed on the wistful “Rollercoaster Zen,” which is one of the album’s standout tracks (sample lyrics: “And it’s one, two, three/ I’m seeing you there where you’ll never be /And it’s s three, four, five/ I’d do anything just to keep you alive.”). But despite the album’s heavy backdrop, “Solid States” never sounds like a dark album.

Older fans will find the new approach on “Solid States” refreshing and younger fans just discovering the band will find plenty to like on this gem of a record. In their darkest hour The Posies managed to shine their brightest, pulling off a fantastic sonic evolution by creating an album that is both an exciting rebirth for the stalwart former Seattle band and a remarkable testament to the healing power of music.

Travis Hay

About Travis Hay

Travis Hay is a professional music journalist who has spent the past 14 years documenting and enjoying Seattle's diverse music scene. In 2009 he established Guerrilla Candy and is currently the site's editor and publisher. He has written for various media outlets including MSN Music, the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Seattle Weekly, Crosscut.com and others and was the founder and editor of defunct music site Ear Candy.