Written by: DR on 14/12/2010 18:56:40

Hailing from Texas, Balmorhea seem to capture the atmosphere of their surroundings, whatever they may be, and somehow paint them with their instruments. They even took their name from a lake/town. Originally, Balmorhea consisted of Michael Muller and Rob Lowe, but with last years "All Is Wild, All Is Silent" they added an additional four members, and therefore (at least) an additional four instruments to their classical-music influenced instrumental sound.

Michael Muller and Rob Lowe are unquestionably talented, but the addition of four extra members had given them something more in terms of overall texture. Take "Rivers Arms", their sophomore album: though efficiently produced and one can't help but admire how acquainted Muller and Lowe are with their instruments, the endeavour resulted in it still only being little more than background music - I even discovered that album and in turn that band from a blog entry titled "Albums To Fall Asleep To (In A Good Way)".

Now down to five members for this release, "Constellations" is arguably their finest album to date (although I'm sure some would argue a case for "All Is Wild..."). They've taken a 'less is more' approach with only nine songs clocking in at just under forty minutes, but also the music itself is more minimalistic, leaving "Constellations" dark, and at times almost empty. Some will be immediately put off by music that can be said to utilise silence in such a way that it allows the listeners freedom to create patterns in their own mind, even going as far to attribute certain compositions as being the backdrop to scenarios that one imagines. I've concocted a lone man, he's old, and spends a lot of time indoors out of fear for what's outside: in "To The Order of The Night" he's sitting at his old piano, playing solemnly, staring out of his windows and at the stars in the night sky; the floorboards creak as he plays. That same character reappears in title track "Constellations", only now he's getting restless and his playing suffers by becoming more distorted and unfocused.

Other titles such as "Bowsprit" and "Steerage And The Lamp" follow a recurring theme of a ship at sea. "Bowsprit" and "Herons" are centred around acoustics; the former also features a violin, banjo and steady percussive stomps, giving the impression of waves clapping against the side of the ship. Lowe's piano-work on "Steerage And The Lamp" furthers this tale with an agitated, unpredictable build-up, however, there's a sudden stop, ala the calm before the storm; the 'storm', or 'increase in loud-ness', arrives with the ambient string-section terrorising the final minutes. "Night Squall" is the sound of the ship hopeful after the storm passes, but "On The Weight of Night" is the realisation that all hope is lost.

(Maybe the character I mentioned in paragraph three is the ship's captain, he's initially wary of the storm in "To The Order of The Night", but by the time "Constellations" arrives he's bracing for the full force of the it and is scared, and is therefore afraid to go outside because of it?)

Much like constellations in the sky, the tracks on "Constellations" feel a part of some greater legend, because even though it is entirely vocal-less, a story is being told. Some won't like or appreciate what Balmorhea have achieved, but ultimately, few acts can do so much with what seems like so little.


Download: To The Order of Night, Steerage And The Lamp
For The Fans of: Peter Broderick, Message to Bears, Library Tapes
Listen: Myspace

Release Date 19.02.2010
Western Vinyl

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