Instrumental music is often a tough sell in the world of pop music, and I've frequently been hesitant to embrace much of anything in the genre. Too often the music falls either into the 'experimental' category, which is usually fascinating but I don't often find to be very enjoyable, or the 'generic' category, which is easy to listen to but provides little that's very interesting or new. Balmorhea (pronounced bal-mor-ay), is a six-piece band based in Austin helping me to overcome my prejudice with their new album, All Is Wild, All Is Silent, out next week on March 10th. The group blends elements of indie rock, folk, Americana, and classical music into an entrancing set of nine lush instrumental tracks that are both comprehensible and exploratory.
Balmorhea prefer to keep their instrumentation organic and their presentation formal, using a palette of acoustic and electric guitars, piano, banjo, strings, percussion, and, occasionally, wordless vocals, to create a sound that is quite familiar. The focus, then, is less on abstract instrumental noodling than on the fantastic arrangements and gorgeous compositions which explore a variety of emotional and musical territory. Opener "Settler" combines an Aaron Copland-esque Americana feel with some jazzy guitar and explosive piano in a meandering track that is triumphant and joyful in one moment, and then reverent the next, climaxing in hand claps, violin, and acoustic guitar. Like "Settler," several of the songs that make up All Is Wild, All Is Silent are long, complex pieces that shift smoothly between several tempos and styles. "Harm & Boon" opens with some soft piano before erupting into a dark, dramatic orchestra behind the lead guitar, then subsides again until finally transitioning into a noisy, messy outro. "Truth" follows a similar pattern, featuring ever-increasing layers of strings and pounding piano which build gently into something grand and epic.
A few songs keep things more simple, like "March 4, 1831" and "November 1, 1832," two relatively brief pieces that build upon a theme and subside slowly, traveling only a short distance but contributing much to the overall effect of the record. The shorter songs keep the album at a modest 42 minutes, which can be enjoyed as a whole without becoming wearying or feeling overblown. It's refreshing to hear instrumental music without pretension, relying on the talent of the musicians in a more traditional setting rather than seeking to push boundaries only for experimentation's sake. At the same time, the band explore enough within their genre to keep the record consistently interesting in addition to being entertaining. Balmorhea have composed a beautiful and uplifting album that impresses throughout.