Balmorhea – Rivers Arms
September 29, 2008, 5:22 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Just occasionally it can be refreshing to take a step back from the world of instant messaging, chemically enhanced food and mass marketing. There is a certain solace to be found away from your television, your stereo or, dare I say it, your laptop. This belief brings me concisely to the music of Texan duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, otherwise known as Balmorhea. Eschewing electrically enhanced equipment completely in favour of percussive and string instruments, Balmorhea engage in folk, classical and ambient styles to present fourteen moments of pure heartfelt emotion that have the ability to take the listener far away from their everyday life.

While the name appears to have a Scottish resonance to it, Balmorhea (pronounced Bal-ma-ray) takes its inspiration from a small Texan town where Lowe spent many a happy summer, during his childhood. It is Balmorhea’s ability to tap into such nostalgic memories that gives many of their compositions an edge over their contemporaries. “Lament”, a soft descending piano piece radiates with a forlorn melancholia as a microphone (perhaps unintentionally) picks up almost every sound within the recording studio. The sorrowful strings help to elevate the impression of forgotten memories. “Barefoot Pilgrims” follows suit, the tentative piano arrangement plays over a foundation of softly plucked acoustic guitar, as a violin seems determined to assume the foreground while hinting at loss and regret.
In a recent interview Lowe discussed the influence of the varying seasons on Balmorhea’s music and this has transcended onto “River Arms”. A song with a title such as “The Summer” may evoke images of blistering heat, glorious sunshine and crystal blue skies, but Muller and Lowe approach this from a different angle. Echoing Jim Morrison’s sentiments in The Doors classic “Summer’s Almost Gone”, Balmorhea make use of reflective acoustic guitar and distant cello to conjure images of the twilight of a summer’s day, when everything is peaceful and the sky gradually begins to turn a purple dusk colour. The gorgeous delayed guitar, longing cello and urgent piano template of “The Winter”, on the other hand, builds purposefully growing in stature, from an initial whisper of sound into a mélange of furious instrumentation, as if the duo are intent on mimicking the intensity of a storm.
“Grey Tapering Ash”, perhaps my favourite, is a breath-taking piece of smoldering blues-folk. The gripping, interlocking guitar infused with field recordings of railroad sounds spin a story that not even a million words could tell. Only the fragmented sound collage of “Contexts” disrupts the flow of this near seamless record. Chances are though, that you will have been mesmerisied by the preceding “Baleen Morning” and will be too dazzled to care. Undeniably beautiful, “River Arms” is the sort of album that would excel in just about every setting (barring a nightclub, of course). There are certain healing qualities to Lowe and Muller’s impermeable compositions that are tightened by a heady mix of resplendent harmonics, keening piano and engaging string arrangements. A breath of fresh air.

Track Listing:

1. San Soloman
2. Lament
3. The Summer
4. The Winter
5. Greyish Tapering Ash
6. Baleen Morning
7. Barefoot Pilgirms
8. Context
9. Process Divisadero
10. Limmat
11. Theme No.1
12. Windandsea
13.San Soloman (Reprise)


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