Back when i went to SxSW, i saw a performance by an Austinian duo who made complex ambient music that trod the borders of classical. No, it was not Stars of the Lid that i saw. Sadly, that act had run its course by the time i discovered them. Instead i am referring to Balmorhea (pronounced "Bal-more-ray").
There is a good deal of similarity between the two acts. Both make music that is meditative, calming, lush, and beautiful. Both acts are a core of two collaborators who surround themselves with a range of other musicians to carry out their vision.
But i find that Balmorhea were always more on the classical side of things, where what Stars of the Lid were doing seemed to me to have more of an inheritance from Eno, especially his collaborative ambient records from the late 1970s/early 80s.
That is a pretty fine distinction and i make it here because i have heard from some people that they found SOTL to be a little overindulgent. Fair enough. Balmorhea are more disciplined, experimenting within the framework(s) of classical music and mellow pop. SOTL, especially on earlier records, seemed to be all over the place. Which is good -- i like both bands a lot, it is just that they seem to have different focuses.
Which brings me to The Wind, which is a stunningly beautiful record. Balmorhea's core duo of Rob Lowe and Michael A. Mueller are at the top of their game here. In fact, this record was released on legendary classical label Deutsche Grammophon, which lends it, and them, an air of respectability that releasing records on independent labels doesn't provide, especially in the classical realm.
Day Dawns In Your Right Eye starts off with a sample -- wind and the faint clatter of a wind chime; then piano, slow and ponderous. A female voice speaking in French adds a little color to the faint piano, the wind sample, and some strings. It fades into Rose In Abstract, a deep sawing of strings and then some piano. On La Vagabonde they add some horns to the piano and sawing strings, which is a really lovely effect.
But Balmorhea aren't just a piano band. Landlessness is layers of acoustic guitar sliding against one another, and then a cello (courtesy of Clarice Jensen) saws in. The guitars and the cello combine wonderfully.
It's back to the piano for Evening, a shortish interlude with a melody that, slightly, reminds me of one of Bruce Hornsby's late 1980s hits. It's a slow and delicate song, and very pretty.
The acoustic guitar is back for The Myth. It starts like a simple little folk tune, the guitar and some strings, but then a female voice comes in, singing wordlessly. It is amazingly beautiful. The vocalist is Lisa Morgenstern, who is credited here and on the next track, V, which has her same wordless vocals combined with piano. Again, this is very lovely.
The guitar is driving things on Ne Plus Ultra, guitars just playing together nicely.
The next two tracks are short interludes, first Nos, a minute and a half of piano, strings, and light tapped percussion; then Vent Pontia, which is samples of voice and rain hitting a roof. It doesn't even last a minute before fading into The Crush, another piano tune. But here they combine the piano with some kind of drone, like one of those little keyboards people blow into, and then some voices faint in the distance.
Finally the record ends with the track Night Falls In Your Left a title and song that clearly is meant to mirror the opening track, and it bugs me that this one is missing the final word "Eye". This is piano and samples and again the French girl speaking. The whole things fades out with the sound of wind blowing, a nice parallel to the start of the album.
This is a wonderful record from a band that have made many wonderful records. I hope that Balmorhea keep at it.