Balmorhea - Constellations
Record Label: Western Vinyl
Release Date: February 23, 2010
It would be unfair to categorize Texas instrumental group Balmorhea as a post-rock band. The similarities between them and, for example, fellow Texas band Explosions in the Sky (or any other instrumental band covered on this site for that matter) begin and end with the fact that neither makes use of vocals. Balmorhea's sound is much more organic and quite apparently takes more from classical influences. Their music makes use of a wide array of instruments with a focus on piano and strings. This may cause some to dismiss the album even before listening for fear of sprawling minimalist yawn-fests, but Constellations, lasting just over 30 minutes, is surprisingly captivating throughout.
The beginning of the album is where Balmorhea really shines. Opening track “To the Order of Night” is a haunting, lonely piano waltz. That such a short, simple song can be so effective in conveying such an intense feeling of solitude is testament to how much this band values restraint in what they do. The next song “Bowsprit” is without a doubt the standout track on this album. Beginning with just guitar, it builds from there into a lush arrangement of additional strings and percussion. It is the summation of all elements of this band and it makes for a very powerful song that leaves a lasting impression.
From there these elements seem to divide into just the right combination to maintain the mood for the rest of the album, playing much like a shortened film soundtrack and a top-notch one at that. Each song following stays true to the emotional theme of the album yet incorporates different arrangements to break any monotony. "Herons" and "Night Squall" display wonderful guitar work that is every bit as effective as the piano used in songs like "Steerage and the Lamp" and used arguably more tastefully. While certain sections carry on a bit too long, there are no places in which the album trails off completely. The album ends with "On the Weight of Night" and "Palestrina", the former being probably the most "post-rock" piece, making use of mostly organ and drums. The closing moments are noisy and droning, ending the album on a strangely unsettling note.
Not enough can be said about the brilliance of songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, as well as the musical talent of all members. It is no easy feat to craft an instrumental album that keeps the listener focused intently, and Balmorhea have succeeded in doing so here probably as best as anyone could hope to. Nothing is overdone or out of place and rarely does the album drag or become boring. The lasting value of this album comes from the emotion it brings out in the listener as well as the imagery it seems to conjure effortlessly with no words at all. Constellations is essentially the soundtrack to gazing up at a night sky, beautifully written to evoke a strong sense of isolation.