Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Balthazar - Rats

Album review by kev@thesoundofconfusion.co.uk

Famed 19th century US humourist Edgar Wilson Nye is supposedly quoted as saying "Wagner's music is better than it sounds". Perhaps this was an early incarnation of the oft wheeled-out cliche that a record "rewards repeat listens", a statement you can either take to mean that it's a grower, or alternatively that it's shorthand for "this a pile of knowingly clever muso nonsense that I don't really like but I'm pretending to 'get' it to be cool". I'm happy to state that Balthazar have here an album that rewards repeat listens, and that in this case, I mean it's a grower. Yeah this is a clever record alright, and yeah some of the lyrics are very well thought out, the arrangements often complex and it doesn't really settle into a rhythm. But, boy, is it good.

'The Oldest Of Sisters' opens proceedings with what could, if played on a harpsichord, happily pass itself of as an ancient Elizabethan piece, but that's before we progress through alt-rock, baroque and even jazz. They're throwing everything they've got at this one and it sounds far better now than it did upon release as a single in November, proving the "grower" theory. It's really quite stunning, the problem being that once the bar is set that high it's difficult to maintain. 'Sinking Ship' offers stiff competition both in the intricate arrangements and the lyrics ("from my pen you expected the sweet honey to drip, but the words come out like rats leaving a sinking ship, yeah look at them run"). The standard is kept high on the agitated 'Later', a song which showcases the consistently inventive drumming.

Although 'Rats' may be lacking any radio-friendly unit shifters, it's built from impressive stuff, and were they not Belgian this would be a shoe-in for a Mercury nomination, only for all the right reasons. They play about with downbeat chamber-pop on 'Joker's Son' and the slightly melodramatic 'The Man Who Owns The Place', and 'Do Not Claim Them Anymore' shows an altogether different sound. If you're looking for instant gratification you may have to grin and bear it through the first few plays of 'Lion's Mouth (Daniel)', 'Listen Up' and 'Any Suggestion' though. Balthazar are clever, they are putting in the effort to make themselves superior, whether they feel they are or not isn't for us to say, but in 'Rats' they've made a grand musical statement, and if it fails to strike a chord upon first listen then bear with it. It's better than it sounds.

Balthazar's website

Stream the album in full

Buy the album

Catch them live:

Mar 07 Handelsbeurs Ghent, Belgium
Mar 08 Where The Wild Things Are, Zeewolde, Netherlands
Mar 12 Ubu Rennes, France Tickets
Mar 13 Stereolux Nantes, France
Mar 14 106 Rouen, France Tickets
Mar 15 La Sirene, La Rochelle, France
Mar 16 Krakatoa, Bordeaux, France
Mar 19 Ninkasi, Lyon, France
Mar 20 Salzhaus, Winterthur, Switzerland
Mar 21 Cartonnerie, Reims, France
Mar 22 Autre Canal, Nancy, France
Mar 23 Grand Mix, Lille, France
Mar 31 Paaspop, Schijndel, Netherlands
Apr 21 FZW, Dortmund, Germany Tickets
Apr 22 Das Bett, Frankfurt Am Main, Germany
Apr 23 Karlstorbahnhof, Heidelberg, Germany
Apr 24 Strom, Munchen, Germany
Apr 25 Scheune, Dresden, Germany
Apr 26 Keller Klub, Stuttgart, Germany
Apr 27 Rosenhof Osnabrück, Germany
May 09 Dauwpop Hellendoorn, Netherlands
Jun 22 Best Kept Secret Festival Hilvarenbeek, Netherlands
Jul 04 Rock Werchter Werchter, Belgium
Jul 13 TW Classic, Werchter, Belgium

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