Balmorhea - Constellations

Chris Tapley 16/02/2010

Rating: 4/5

Constellations is Balmorhea's fourth album in as many years, a work rate that must be classed as fairly prolific by any standards. Not only have they maintained a quality across these releases in such a short time but they've continued to evolve, and Constellations might just be a document of a band at the top of their game. 2008's Rivers Arms was a tightly hewn tapestry of dusty guitars, rustic strings and doleful piano, it's sense of place tightly contained in shorter tracks. By the time last years release of All is Wild, All is Silent these had morphed in to vast expansive instrumentals which bristled with constant change, melodies ringing through the air across vast open landscapes.

It was a notable change from it's predecessor but it was one implemented with such confidence that it's not really a surprise to find Constellations being ostensibly a return to their roots. After the last album's sprawling instantaneous pieces, everything here is much more deliberate; you can almost sense the pause of consideration before each note is struck. It can be hard to pick apart their music because on a surface level it's all relatively similar, but with each album the band have emphasised different elements of their sound. Rivers Arms was the intimacy, All Is Wild... was the seemingly endless reverberation across space, the focus of this one seems to be firmly placed on the reflective sadness. It's something which is present in most of their previous work and here really comes to the fore, with this aspect the album often echoes the work of piano luminaries such as Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Opener To The Order of the Night is symptomatic of the overall feel; a slow and considered ruminative piano lament which shelters itself in a tiny cocoon of ambience. Bowsprit offers more of an allusion to their previous style as it builds gradually in to a more expansive piece reminiscent of older tracks like Settler. Another track which shares this attribute is Steerage and the Lamp, probably the highlight here, is stretched beautifully over seven minutes, its frantic piano motif gradually sprouting new branches of noise like the slow unfurling of an unstoppable deep sadness. There are occasional flashes of optimism brimming within the instrumentation, like the guitar on Night Squall. That segues straight in to the deep bass and splashing cymbals of On The Weight of The Night, which is the most effortlessly evocative tracks here. The echo of the drums making it sound bathed in moonlight which flits around the gut wrenchingly mournful organ which pervades the track. Upon first listen it might not seem much, but the patient layering of textures slowly becomes utterly engrossing.

Constellations is a slow and meditative album, it doesn't reap instant rewards but instead it's beauty lies in the tiny understated moments tucked away in the corners. Like the echo of the muted choir on the final track or the cadence of the subtle drones on Winter Circle amongst countless others. Those who came to the band via last years All is Wild, All is Silent may find it at times frustratingly slow but for those who have been listening from the start this is just another wonderful display of Balmorhea's adept musicianship.