Solex ought to be a superhero in her own Saturday morning cartoon. During the day she'd unassumingly run her little record shop in Amsterdam; at night she'd retreat to her basement studio and mix up samples like a mad scientist, perfecting her latest audio concoction. Her recent album, Low Kick and Hard Bop, would be the soundtrack to her adventures. It makes perfect sense. Besides, it isn't far from the truth. Solex indeed is a collage wizard whose songs defy convention, yet for whom "kooky" is too crass a description.
In her first album since 1999's Pick Up, Solex hasn't much changed her style, which isn't to say that her music is uninteresting. It would be hard to find any other musician who sounds like Solex (born Elisabeth Esselink). Perhaps she's best defined as a modern pop diva: as producer and composer she combines sampling with live instruments; she writes and sings the lyrics, and fronts the band in live shows. After listening long enough, it's easy to envision her sitting behind a big oak desk, puffing on a cigar and ignoring the pleas of some bigwig while her music blares in the background.
Scouring the dusty record bins in her own shop, Solex finds and uses what's usually left on the symbolic cutting-room floor to create songs that incorporate elements of many genres, but avoid falling under any particular one. Beneath the cracked pastel coating of "Knee-High," we hear greasy jazz riffs, police sirens, shouty distorted vocals and a good dose of peppy drum kicks that leave us confused yet somehow blissful and satisfied.
As listeners, we're never sure whether Solex is playing her songs for us, or we've been spying on her in her lab all this time. The tracks are three-minute wild bursts of color; they feel as if we've suddenly opened a trap door into one of Solex's zany adventures, caught a glimpse, and then slammed the door shut. Her lyrics tell tiny stories, their true meaning known only to Solex herself. They're oddball, but perhaps strangely normal moments: a man surprised in the sheriff's cornfield; eating Cajun crabs for the first time; dancing like a showgirl in your own kitchen. The moments are incomplete, and that's what makes them intriguing.
Low Kick and Hard Bop doesn't necessarily lend itself to all listening situations, and may even be tiring at times. It can, however, enlighten and surprise the listener. When you least expect it, you'll find yourself shouting along to the songs and bopping your head up and down to the addictive buzzes and breaks. Esselink is indeed a mastermind but not one bent on destroying the world. She saves it by thrilling us.