Constellations (Western Vinyl, 02.2010)
For: Rachel's, Chaz Prymek, Hauschka
Byline: Absolutely gorgeous post-rock/neo-classical that stands in line with some of the greats in the genre.
The banjo isn’t exactly the most comely of instruments, but under the hands of Balmorhea, that thing could be a viola for all I’m concerned. It’s guttural twang is counter pointed by a gorgeous upswell of strings or a mournful guitar line. The marriage of discreet folk with the aesthetic austerity of post-classical compositions isn’t anything new, especially as Western Vinyl keeps churning out hit after hit (Sleep Whale, Slow Six), but what Balmorhea nails is the execution. There are string sections so brilliantly placed, pauses so pronounced that I could live a lifetime or more inside any moment of this album. Balmorhea seems to be operating on a next level type of songwriting (like the Die Antwoord next level) that sets Constellations heads and shoulders above any other release in this genre this year and last. In fact this could be the best release in this vein since Rachel’s The Sea and the Bells. Not simply an expressionistic deconstruction coupled around a few known chords, Balmorhea’s classical roots underpin the entire album. Beneath the delicately picked banjoes, strummed acoustic guitars and sampled vocal choirs, Erik Satie’s minimalist chord bursts and Joseph Haydn’s stringed fugues hold commanding sway. Constellations could live entirely outside of its conventions and influences as a purely evocative album, perfect for contemplative things that contemplative people do. Like walking, or driving, or the concept of Autumn. But deep inside we see the broadest swatches of Thee Silver Mt. Zion (or whatever they are calling themselves these days) brooding post-rock meets classical music, Max Richter's perfect musicianship and a whole slew of dead classical composers I could mention. Plus, there is a full-throated church organ that absolutely destroys me every time on “On the Weight of the Night”. Constellation’s accessible melding of classical and contemporary musical ideas is absolutely essential 2010 listening. In fact, if the world ends in 2012 this may be the album I put on to watch it all burn down.