Balmorhea Constellations Review

Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Starry showing from this continually evolving, ever-improving Texan quintet.

Spencer Grady 2010

If Constable had painted the prairies of the American Midwest instead of the countryside of Suffolk’s Dedham Vale, this album might have provided the soundtrack to those landscapes.

Austin-based Balmorhea have always adhered to the less bombastic confines of cinematic sound, happily navigating vast arable expanses of Faulkner-esque pastorals, coloured in chamber folk shades. But, whereas earlier albums would merely insinuate, content to keep it low-key, more recent sets have seen the group’s brush strokes become ever broader, the handling of their widening palette becoming ever more assured. Before 2009’s exquisitely luminescent All Is Wild, All Is Silent, images conjured by the founding duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller had appeared like fragmented illusions, fluttering spectres communicating from a faraway idyll, unsure as to which side of the astral plane they should reside.

Now, accompanied by Aisha Burns, Nicole Kern and Travis Chapman, those shapes are more explicitly defined, etched out in plaintive ivory and sumptuous string swells, while a deftly plucked banjo anchors the prevailing air of authenticity to the sturdy foundations of tradition.

These elements are supplemented by field recordings and voice which deepen the ambient pool, augmenting the all-encompassing sense of exploration while traversing a mythical world akin to the vistas portrayed by Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor. The ethereal choir which weaves its way through Palestrina makes for a particularly haunting finale, as if Hildegard of Bingen’s A Feather on the Breath of God were being performed by Boxhead Ensemble or Stars of the Lid. Such highlights are common to this collection, which alternates between the timorously melancholic (To the Order of Night and Winter Circle) and the defiantly dramatic (Bowsprit and On the Weight of Night).

Just like its predecessor, Constellations’ unfussy panoramas may initially seem a little too polite, just a tad too restrained for some, but repeated listening will unravel hidden seams of loveliness. Given enough time, this work will reveal its shimmering tributaries that break from the main body of water like precious secrets, stretching for the sky.

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