Stranger (Western Vinyl)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Sept. 28, 2012
BalmorheaStranger (Western Vinyl)
Strange how distance can bring people together in new and profound ways. Recorded over two years primarily at Tortoise's Soma Electronic Music Studios in Chicago, Balmorhea's Stranger came into focus over great distances and lengths of time, with multi-instrumentalist Michael Muller in Brooklyn and guitarist/pianist Rob Lowe secluded in Alpine. The local ensemble was born to constant transition, forever in search of a fleeting moment. From the sketched intimacy of its eponymous debut in 2007 and youthful splendor of 2008's Rivers Arms, to the colonial expanse of 2009 breakthrough All Is Wild, All Is Silent and the eerie, restrained tranquility of 2010's Constellations, Balmorhea moves and morphs like weather patterns. Balmorhea's fifth studio album marks a dramatic transformation in approach and temperament, packing a visceral immediacy only teased with last year's Live at Sint-Elisabethkerk. The compositions here are more self-contained and complicated, with everything – swelling strings, wordless vocals, xylophone, and steel drums – in its rightful place without sounding overly composed. "Pyrakantha," meanwhile, bridges the band's past and present. A soft trance of pensive guitars fades into a bed of static synthesizers, which then settles into a guitar groove subtly propelled by the nuanced percussion of stellar new addition Kendall Clark. Centerpiece "Artifact" uncovers an epic unto itself, a three-part suite venturing into prog rock. Layers of guitar arpeggios and rolling piano top circling guitar loops in a game of chutes and ladders between Muller and Lowe that climaxes akin to Explosions in the Sky by the way of Robert Fripp's The Repercussions of Angelic Behavior. With Stranger, Balmorhea finally comes into full bloom. (CD release: Mohawk, Friday, Sept. 28.)
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