(7 out of 10)
It’s by no means an original observation to note that the music of Austin instrumental group Balmorhea bears something of a resemblance to the sonic tapestries woven in the late ‘90s by Rachel’s. However, if Rachel’s was the stately sound of classical music as reimagined by ethereal-minded and complexity-loving hipsters, Balmorhea creates music that is notably more compact and earthbound. On their fourth full-length in three years, it becomes quite clear that the band is squarely focused on finessing that approach, for although Constellations is easily identifiable as the work of the same band who debuted in 2007 with a stunning self-titled disc, this album shows that the group has – through constant performance and studio work – come considerably closer to paring down its sound to its essential elements.
Tracks like “On the Weight of Night” lean heavily upon lightly-plucked acoustic guitars, gently-brushed drums, and barely-there organ lines to create their dusky and melancholic moods, while other songs – most notably the epic, churchbound “Palestrina,” which fuses a ghostly choir and distorted drones to chilling effect – aim for a more spectral impact. Although much of Constellations is constructed out of melody-free atmosphere – excepting, say, the oddly catchy banjo line of “Bowspirit” or the “Silent Night”-biting familiarity of “Herons” – it’s far from being abrasive or formless. In fact, the ease with which Balmorhea makes these pieces both affective and memorable is a testament to an easy compositional prowess that is only improving with time.
Standout Tracks: “Palestrina,” “Bowspirit”