19.08.2011, Words by Charlie Jones


The title of Balam Acab’s newest LP is very clever. It’s just a homophone, a gimmicky play on words, a kind of vagueness that can quickly be glazed over – and yet, if you peel it back, it’s a devastatingly good idea. It’s the concept of variations on a theme, crossed with the concept of brilliant genius disguised as brilliant simplicity, crossed with the concept of alliteration, of repetitive sounds sliding together to create fluidity and oneness. It’s everything, in essence, that the album itself is. Balam Acab, in Wander/Wonder , achieves something awesome. Alec Koone, to call the Pennsylvania-based producer by his real name, meanders /meditates his way through a fluid half hour record that, as one track pales effortlessly into the next, shows an ability to maintain a core essence in many distinctly different forms. Like smashed crystal, each piece has its own shape, its own allure, and yet all are made of the same stuff – none could have existed without the rest, but each has something different to tell you.

“Samey” is a word that haunts many new releases, and one that in particular has clung like static electricity to the reception of Balam Acab’s early releases from Wander/Wonder. It would be easy to believe, listening through the album, that Koone was simply commissioned by someone to write eight songs about water, and perhaps that’s what he did. Each track, though, invigorates and enlightens its topic in a new way – Welcome wobbles into existence with the tentative idea of submersion, a quiet and softened introduction to the strange terrain of the record, whilst Motion crashes over its listener like a waterfall, and Expect surges with the tide. The record eventually ends its wandering with Fragile Hope , a track which is dripping with insecurity, its breathless undertones and icy crackles creating instability and coldness, bringing the album to a hypothermic end. Never mind “samey” – the word “engrossing” is the one for me. It’s easy to become utterly absorbed by this luxurious album, without coming up for air.

It’s true that some tracks swim easier aided by the support of the rest of the record – it’s difficult to imagine wanting to listen to the cyclical splashes of Await if it came up on shuffle. Soaring high points, though, pulsate through the album like beacons, projecting themselves into individuality beyond their identity as a piece of the overall work. Oh, Why is thick with echoes and rain, inventing an atmosphere of its own with its interplay of sweet and sinister voices, battling through a storm of electronic shimmers. Moments like this are challenging for those who might listen to this album in expectation of something underwhelming, those who are sceptical of “witch house” (a label that Balam Acab bizarrely continues to carry) – powerful and playful, tracks like Oh, Why refuse to play by preconceptions.

Since Koone managed to sum up his work so succinctly, so deftly, in the title Wander/Wonder , I want to honour his simple genius with my simple thoughts on the record. I like this album, a lot – I like its clockwork beats, and its hypnotic, baby-voiced melodies. I like the splashing and the surging that underpins the tracks – I like that the whole thing feels natural, feels as if it’s growing on me as I listen, as if it’s being born. Whether carved into chunks or swallowed whole, this is music that has its own voice, and knows how to experiment with it without ever deviating from the current.


You might like