Balmorhea: Constellations

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Aidan Williamson

16th February 2010
At 16:52 GMT

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Balmorhea weren't the first men to look to the stars and to be inspired and they will never be the last. Nine songs here mark that effect as the boys put the universe on record.

Their previous album All Is Wild, All Is Silent had precisely the opposite intent, its motivation was to study the ground we walk on, the lives we lead, the civilisation we populate. In view of this, a change has occurred. Gone are the tightly packed arrangements; in their place are sparse, tender compositions designed to instil the hope and wonder and ponderousness which likely filled the hearts and minds of Balmorhea all those nights ago.

And all this without the use of one single recorded vocal.

Because of this concept, few songs ever subject themselves to the same shenanigans with which the rest of the contemporary post-rock scene concern themselves. Indeed "Bowsprit" is the only track to have serious form and shape. Named for the front part of a sailing vessel, the song conveys its meaning as wayward explorers, leaping to places of which they have no knowledge, led to worlds unknown and experiences untested. The more earthen feel portrayed through the rustic string sounds and the village hall hand-claps and stomps almost bring a pioneer spirit to the meaning of the album: treating the stars of worlds yet to be explored and settled. To get to use the phrase "space cowboy" fills us with much glee.

As a potentially intended side-effect of the album's more sparse approach to arrangement though, it does fail to intrigue as wholly as a lot of Balmorhea's earlier work did. With most songs comprising only a few elements or instruments at any one time, you're faced with the choice to either submit yourself fully to the record (likely with the aid of a sensory-deprivation tank) or risk it washing over you, leaving your mind unperturbed by its low-key nature.

Tracks such as "Winter Circle", "Constellations", "Steerage and the Lamp" and "Palestrina" rarely raise themselves above a whisper, instead devoting themselves to the lower decibel ranges to work out their musings. Lose the mood for a second, and the songs can be gone before you manage to re-engage and stop wondering which room you locked the children in, or what's for tea.

Even when it slips to the rear of your periphery though, this is still an album remarkable in its pace and plotting. Captivation may not be 100%, but when it does manage to rein in your imagination, it's an album capable of sending it to extraordinary places.

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