Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Album Review: Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder

It seems as though for years electronic and I have been struggling, all with an insurmountable ferocity that I can almost admire. It isn’t because I expressly despise the genre, not in the least, but there’s something about the stark, cold inhumanity of it all that keeps me at arm’s length. The “bleeps” and “bloops” strike me as unnatural—sounds that are as intangible as they are impersonal. However, every so often an album comes along that disassembles these feelings, and ends up being wholly personal, passionate, and more importantly, beautiful.

Balam Acab’s Wander/Wonder is a cold, entrancing electronica album, with an overall sense of gracefulness and poise. A better description would be to compare it to water, as the album seems like an audible recording of water. It pulses subtly like a wave, and flows like a steady current. It’s part trance and part dubstep, but carries itself with more urgency, giving off a much more upbeat feeling. I’d rather not throw it into the catch all genre that is “electronica,” but it has many influences from a wide spectrum, making the exact sound impossible to describe in writing. There will surely be those who interpret the album as a spooky or mysterious work, filled with smoldering drum and bass. This, no doubt will lead into the "witch house" realm, a hotly contested genre name that's been hanging around like a bad smell. Yet, Wander/Wonder largely defies definition, which only adds to its incredible amount of charm.

Whatever genre it may fall into, it’s safe to say that Wander/Wonder is one of the easiest albums to listen to this year. There are no risks taken. The album is brisk, but succinct and to the point. It doesn’t wear out its welcome, nor does it fiddle around with too much experimentation. Some may be turned off by this “almost too easy” approach, as there really isn’t much of a challenge. It’s simple, that’s for sure, but in its blissful simplicity lies something truly comforting. Nothing is risked, but nothing is lost in the process, making the album an incredibly tight and cohesive work.

There’s more here than simple beats laden with ambiance. Different kinds of tempos and sounds are manipulated, enough so that interest is sustained throughout. Vocal samples are warped into eerie yet calming proportions, adding to the more “humanistic” vibe that the album gives off. That isn’t to say the album is expressly “emotional,” but the feeling of comfort and warmth is something felt through the entire record. This is all tied together nicely by a fantastic production, and is expressed through eight, wonderful tracks, with each being a standout in their own right. Never once does the album drag, with each moment being fine, if not excellent.

Wander/Wonder in no way changes the rules, because it doesn’t take a lot of risks that indicate such intentions were ever even there. However, it is simply one hell of a strong record, with the corners rounded and everything polished to sheer brilliance. Beautiful, engaging, and exhilarating, Wander/Wonder is one of this year’s finest electronic offerings, and just a fantastic album all around.


01 Welcome
02 Apart
03 Motion
04 Expect
05 Now Time
06 Oh, Why
07 Await
08 Fragile Hope

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