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  Western Vinyl  
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Balmorhea (pronounced BAL-moor-ay) is a state park in southwest Texas. It appears to be a natural spring in the middle of the desert out there. I guess. The closest i have actually been to this location is Austin, all the way on the other side of that rather large state.

Balmorhea is also a band from Austin whose promo company have been trying to convince me that i would like them for several months now. You see, back in August they released a remix record. They sent me a download of it, and although i found it enjoyable, i really had a hard time writing about it, since i was completely unfamiliar with the source material. However, early 2010 brings a new record, and so they took another chance to get EvilSponge into their music. I am glad that they did, because this is one beautiful release.

Balmorhea is a duo, featuring Rob Lowe on piano (but not that Rob Lowe) and Michael Muller on bass and guitar. On this record, they are joined by Michael Bell on percussion and the string section of Aisha Burns (violin), Travis Chapman (double bass), and Nicole Kern (cello). You will notice that this is not the typical rock band lineup. Balmorhea are not a typical rock band, and in fact they have more in common with the pseudo-classical strain of Texan post-rock, such as Stars of the Lid and My Education. So if you are looking for rock music, or even vocals, then this is not for you. However, if you want to hear some interesting tunes that wander in unhurried ways, then this is an excellent choice. You might also enjoy listening to this record if you are curious to see how cool jazz will blend into classical music and ambient post-rock. There is a lot going on here…

There are nine songs on Constellations and in general they seem to alternate between keyboard led songs (Lowe apparently plays the organ as well as the piano) and guitar led tunes. That is not to say that we are dealing with a sort of Elton John v. Eric Clapton dichotomy here. In application, the difference between the two types of songs is more one of construction and not one of vastly different mood. That is, no matter what Balmorhea are using as the main instrument, the songs carry a consistent tone and voice.

For example, let's consider my favorite part of the record. The sixth track is called Steerage and the Lamp and it is a piano-based tune that clocks in at just over seven minutes. It starts with Lowe at the keyboard, playing away at a nice, rolling gait for a full minute or so. Then he slows it done, playing sparsely, and then brings the pace back up, where the rest of the band joins in. There are deep cello riffs that echo and reverb like the moaning of the ocean as the piano dances like light over the waves. The other strings join the cello, playing against the piano. And then, at about the three minute mark, everything gets quiet again. Lowe plays sparsely, and there is a brief bass bit that amazes and delights me. It is a little thing, over in a few seconds, but it sounds like it was lifted from Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. It is that deep plucked bass sound that Paul Chambers used so well on that album. Now, all of this has happened before the song has even hit the halfway mark. There is still more ebb and flow, a return to the strings, another bass bit, and a lovely violin line. Stunning.

Balmorhea follow that up with Night Squall. This tune starts with a simple guitar line, open and echoed, like something from the quieter moments of a Dirty Three song. The strings join in, the cello sawing away and the violin plucked. Eventually some deep percussions comes in (is that a kettle drum i hear? I love kettle drum!), and the song gets dense and flowing. This tune is over in three and a half minutes, but it packs a lot into that time frame.

Next we have On the Weight of the Night. This song starts off with a droning organ, which is joined by ponderous drumming, and a scattering of guitar and bass. This is like Low covering a Pink Floyd tune -- strange and mystical and so very slow. Another lovely tune, and most of the percussion on the entire record is contained in the five minutes of this one song!

That is about one third of the album, but i think you get the picture. These songs require patience, and have a lot of depth to them. That said, they also have a lot of spaciousness to them. The songs never pack the notes and sounds in too tightly, but instead allow each instrument the space to grow and reverberate naturally. I think that takes a lot of patience in the recording and mixing, and i really appreciate the effort.

This is a great record, and the first contender for Album of the Year, 2010. I am glad that Balmorhea and their promo people kept EvilSponge in mind. This is exactly the type of thing this site enjoys. I know that many of our loyal readers will like this, so check out Balmorhea when you have a chance (at the very least, download the free tune, below). You won’t regret it.

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Their promo company, Team Clermont, has given EvilSponge permission to share the following song with our readers. Enjoy.


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