Thursday, September 1, 2011

Balam Acab- Wander/Wonder REVIEW

With the release of Balam Acab’s 2010 debut EP See Birds, Alec Koone seemed to be taking a pretty firm stance in support of all things “Witch House”- the oh so ubiquitous Dubsteppian subgenre accidentally spawned by Pictureplane’s Travis Edgedy. Not that I have anything against this particular musical pigeonhole- in fact, I tend to enjoy the sound and believe the best days of Witch House are yet to come. But over the past few years, it has served as a reliably efficient recipe for obscurity among rising artists; and I don’t mean the Burial, Zomby, SBTRKT- type of anonymity either. Many up-and-comers venture into this gothic void of haunted beats and are forever lost within the Grand Guignol atmosphere, spiraling deeper down the rabbit hole of infinite subgenres. What can I say? The immense accessibility of our generational trends yields stronger and tighter niches than ever before- both for the artist and the consumer. Perhaps this will one day reach a crescendo when every artist becomes their own genre and all humans are forced to create at the behest of self-definition. As if the music industry could become more non-altruistic.

None of this changes the fact that See Birds was quite good. And so it came as a welcome surprise when the full-length Wander/Wonder emerged from the detritus as a more mature and ambitious offering from Koone’s Balam Acab. The crowning elements of the aforementioned subgenre all make an experience here- but subtlety is now the name of the game. Yet Wander/Wonder is not so much restrained as it is intently focused on defining a pervasive mood for the listener. On the majority of these eight tracks, Koone has created an aquatic atmosphere as if the album were actually recorded underwater- the only misstep being the overuse of bubbly sounds (a choice a little too “on-the-nose” to begin with for such a refined album). And while this is far from a wholly original concept (both Nicolas Jaar and Panda Bear have recently deployed this technique on their respective LPs), Koone utilizes this imagery as a garnish for vocal samples and tantalizingly strategic beats. With the exception of opener “Welcome”, which uses harsh, scratchy repetition to announce itself, Wander/Wonder lacks the inherent intensity of See Birds. However, that forceful potency has been replaced by a graceful vibe of ambivalence notably attained on “Expect” and “Oh, Why”. And while, due to this, the album ultimately segues into formlessness by its seventh track, “Await”- the closer “Fragile Hope” rescues it from the precipice with a gentle ambient swell that precedes a thunderous bass line. To a certain extent, this is an almost anti-Witch House subgenre of Dubstep. Wander/Wonder feels largely about the awe of the sonic journey as opposed to the possible horror- and Koone makes sure that both discoveries are equally satisfying.


10 Balam Acab - Expect by -Rx-

Balam Acab - Oh, Why by Voler

Balam Acab - Fragile Hope by tinyfloaters

- Fr. Jones

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