Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., Feb. 22, 2008
BalmorheaBallet Austin, Feb. 16
In the shadow of Explosions in the Sky, Austin's Western Vinyl label has inducted a new class of instrumentalism into the River City, one existing purely outside the planes of post-rock. The indie label showcased its two local artists Saturday at a dimly lit Ballet Austin studio. Setting the tone for the evening, Bexar Bexar began with a 30-minute exercise in controlled environmentalism, diluting distorted acoustic guitar, field recordings, and electronic samples played through a series of filters that magnified the subtleties of sound. Brian Sampson, the lone local artist behind Bexar Bexar and Western Vinyl, built his ambient structure in the same manner as one piecing together a jigsaw puzzle without referencing the picture on the box, plugging and unplugging devices and tweaking knobs as the fragments slowly fell into place. Commemorating the release of its exceptional second album, Rivers Arms, headliner Balmorhea bridged the neoclassical realm of Max Richter with the refined elegance of Sigur Rós, at times employing similarly wordless, voice-as-instrument verses. The core of the local fourpiece's compositions, like cornerstone "Barefoot Pilgrims," was guided by pianist Rob Lowe, with heavy brushstrokes of violin, cello, and acoustic guitar accentuating his expressive playing. Maybe it was the studio's hardwood floors and wall-length mirrors or the completely silent awe shared by the audience, but in this environment, Balmorhea's linear arrangements seemed specifically designed for dance sequences – a poised adagio or graceful tour en l'air – that conveyed the fluidity of movement.