If you’ve ever been told not to talk to strangers, it’s time for a paradigm shift. A colorful smorgasbord of stylistic inspiration most likely to be pigeonholed as post-rock, Balmorhea’s 2012 album Stranger inspires some delicious interest in the young ensemble from Austin, Texas. Instead of pacifying you with copious pools of drifting piano and gentle guitar melodies heard in previous works, like the 2008 album Rivers Arms, this release communicates with a more potent infusion that is sure to start conversation and secure a budding fan-base.
Carving away at Balmorhea’s trendy category of being minimal, Stranger encompasses the spaces of sound with satisfactory fullness. One listen to the album’s third track “Fake Fealty”, for instance, will dispel any concept of minimalism as you are swept away on lustrous mountain gullies of cheer and anticipation.
Having shown to be prolific at creating a meandering ambiance with earlier works, this entirely instrumental band takes a mature step towards refining their movement. It’s a steady journey, primarily driven by strings in an animated dialogue between violin and suave guitar. The product of Stranger is not a technical masterpiece by any means, but it does carry an undeniable accuracy of delivery with short scores of positivity and gentle surprises.
The brief introduction of choral vocals in “Dived” takes a somewhat grandiose step into the realm of humanistic orchestra, heard again in “Jubi”. This is a tentative, experimental step for the group which has the potential for future sophisticated development. Of course, loyal fans may also pose the significant question of integrity should Balmorhea choose to fully embrace the use of vocals, lyrical or not. How will this change the landscape of the sound? Will it hinder the progress of primarily instrumental melody as we have seen through the growth from their self-titled first album, released in 2007, to Stranger? Listeners will certainly notice the dramatic difference between the textures of these tracks and the rest of the album’s body, and wonder about the degree to which vocals may or may not be prioritized in later projects.
The closing track, “Pilgrim”, subtly drifts into the territory of soul riffs, flaunting some moody skill in an appropriate closing for an album that teases with the possibility of more technical work in the future. In itself, Stranger is a structural milestone in the diversity of Balmorhea’s poetry, though there may still be excessive potential left begging to be filled with luscious complexity. If this album is any indication of Balmorhea’s growth, it fuses the ambient sensitivity of past work with a more directed passion that opens it to wider audiences. It was an intelligent move for Balmorhea to keep Stranger consistent. This greatly approachable album could be the cornerstone for a growing fan-base, and an iconic release to which listeners can relate. With Stranger released upon the world, fans new and old will certainly be rediscovering previous albums to compare the band’s firm evolution and relishing in the sometimes granular, sometimes velvet sounds of Balmorhea’s newest album.