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Album Review

by Balam Acab

Tri-Angle Records

Review Date
27th September 2011
Reviewed by
Martyn Pepperell

On Wander/Wonder, Tri-Angle Records wunderkind Balam Acab uses water noises in the same way that a rock band would make use of distorted guitar, or a young tear-out dubstep DJ might apply fetishism to Native Instruments Massive VST software. Water, bubbling or flowing, exists as a centrality in Balam Acab's sound, and as English music journal The Wire recently observed, is possibly the heaviest use of this nature noise we've seen on record since A.R Kane in their heyday.

Existing as a linear eight song suite, Wander/Wonder matches Balam Acab's love of the aquatic with a delicate tightrope walk between swirling, kaleidoscopic synthesiser textures, gritty sample loops and weightless angelic voices - elements which were key motifs in his 2010 debut EP See Birds (also released on Tri-Angle Records).

As with See Birds, there is a bit of pop to Wander/Wonder and a bit of the experimental. It's music with a genuine weight and physicality, constructed on a bedroom set-up with the aspirations of a big budget studio hit-maker. With See Birds, Balam Acab balanced these two polar pulls to the extent where he managed to position the title tune as the soundtrack to a L'Oréal advert staring Beyonce, and obtain lauded critical acclaim within from both the blogosphere and traditional print media. Repositioned on a level where he now counts the likes of Anne Hathaway and Ellen Page amongst his fan base, it's going to be exciting to see what foreign cultural shores some of these message-in-a-bottle style soundworlds will wash up on over the next year.

Across the record, be it the humorously titled introductory track 'Welcome', album centrepiece 'Expect' or the elegant coda, 'Fragile Hope', Balam Acab does in a sense, work Wander/Wonder to certain formulas. The songs start slowly and quietly, gradually building momentum, like a slowly waking lion dosed on novocaine. Once awake (which generally happens within 30 seconds to a minute and a half), the songs tend to burst at their seams, pouring echoed rhythms, submarine deep bass tones and twirling voice sample and synth combinations onto the listener with the force of a tsunami reaching land.

Within online discussion, much has been made of the lead single 'Oh, Why', a track that literally sounds like a mermaid ball held deep within the depths of the sunken city of Atlantis. The synthesis between samples that sound like they're from the 1930s and worming futuristic stabs is certainly something, no doubt, but in truth, upon repeated, focused listening, the majority of water connected numbers on Wander/Wonder offer similar aural thrills. This is music which is truly about tension and release, fuse and ignition, or however else you want to describe the peak/valley dynamic. Maybe it's best looked at as a river, naturally damming up at points until the pressure becomes too much, the clutter bursts, and the water runs free, wild and unmitigated. Eventually, the dance begins again, repeating itself over and over, ad infinitum, much like the endless, indiscriminate cycles of mother nature herself.


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