Every so often an artist of great talent will create a piece of art that acts as a point of demarcation amongst their body of work. Many consider this to be the definition of a masterpiece, an outstanding piece of work that totally encapsulates not only an artist’s ability but also reveals a shred of their soul. Since establishing himself as one of the premier names in bass music over the last six years, CharlestheFirst has grown from strength to strength. After dominating the festival sphere and amassing a die-hard fanbase, Charles has proven to be one of the most influential creators in the world of electronic music.
However, even with all of his success CharlestheFirst has now delivered what I believe to be his best work to date. Solus is the newest album from the Tahoe native and this latest effort is an emotionally driven testament to Charles’ artistry, versatility, and vision. Beyond the incredibly nuanced production present throughout Solus, what really elevates this album is the emotional vulnerability displayed by Charles on every track. This project truly feels like a musical therapy session with CharlestheFirst acting as the listener’s attentive sonic psychiatrist.
The album blooms to life with the enigmatic opener “Learning 2 Pray,” which perfectly sets the tone for this complex and illuminating musical journey. The first of the 13 tracks on Solus, opens with ominous and foreboding synths which create an appropriate atmosphere of tension. “Learning 2 Pray” then lets loose into a beautifully constructed soundscape. This release of tension is a common thread throughout the album and Charles does a wonderful job of maintaining a balance of bliss and contemplation. Next, “To Depart, To Seek” is an awe-inspiring tune comprised of delicate etherealness but counterbalanced by the experimental stoicism that is a trademark of CharlestheFirst’s downtempo collection.
“Figured U Out” is the first time we get to hear Charles’ dreamy and intoxicating vocals. This track is perfectly placed in the album, coming after the two emotionally heavy opening tracks, “Figured U Out” brings a stylish bounce and swagger into the equation. The appropriately named “Foreboding Feeling” follows up like a runaway locomotive. Dripping in delicious sub-bass this track stands out as the nastiest stomper on the album. Even though this track is clearly the most primed for the dancefloor, the listener can still feel the deep emotional subtext.
“Prophecy” is a dramatic mind-bending flex that showcases CharlestheFirst at his marauding best. Unpredictable, yet impeccably arranged, ferocious yet undeniably suave, “Prophecy” is the clearest example of why CharlestheFirst is one of the most revered names in bass music currently. “Hopeful” is a hypnotic lullaby that swaddles the listener in a cocoon of fuzzy synths, rolling hi-hats, and alluring vocal samples. This is yet another track where Charles creates an impenetrable vibe anchored deep in emotion, perfectly capturing the excitement and slight naivete of being hopeful.
“Out Of The Dark” is a gorgeous song that utilizes sumptuous percussive elements to lead the listener down a, particularly winding rabbit hole. Charles stretches his legs on this tune, bringing in elements of techno into the song’s second breakdown, before totally flipping the script with an audacious avalanche of glitchy basslines. Profoundly luminous, “Out Of The Dark” captures the feeling of starting anew and the long road to self-discovery.
Even in the short two-minute-long interlude “Searching,” CharlestheFirst is able to convey an incredible depth of emotion. The comforting warmth of “Searching” comes to an end all too quickly, but then we are given the second offering of Charles’s unique and infectious vocal work. “For Now” truly encapsulates Charles’ maturation and evolution as an artist. Hip-hop overtones give this track an almost R&B vibe, but the true star of the track is the thought-provoking lyrics.
“Hang In There” featuring Tsuruda and “Fleeting Memories”, both surge with sci-fi elements. These two cinematic tracks evoke visions of drifting through the endless expanse of outer space. One could imagine an astronaut hurtling through the cosmos and marveling at the all-encompassing splendor of the universe while bobbing their head to these tunes in their headphones.
On “The Undoing” CharlestheFirst enlists the talents of fellow bass maven kLL sMTH to concoct one irreverent experimental concoction. This left-of-center effort sees two of the best bass producers seamlessly combine for one enigmatic end product. The album ends with the uplifting and serene “Clarity.”
Charles brings this masterpiece to a close on a truly euphoric note. “Clarity” mirrors the opening track “Learning 2 Pray” wonderfully, with the two songs acting as emotional bookends in what can only be described as a sonic voyage through the mind and spirit.
Solus feels like a love letter written by CharlestheFirst to his fans and supporters. Each track has incredible depth and intention, which makes the listening experience feel like getting lost in a world made for the sole purpose of replenishing and inspiring the listener. After the year we have all suffered through, Solus is a musical panacea and a reminder that life is full of beauty and that we can all be the light amidst the darkness.