Balam Acab - Wander / Wonder

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  • Let's be honest here: the stuff Alec Koone makes as Balam Acab is basically trip-hop. It slumps with the same deliberate wooziness. It's just the palette that has changed. We've updated from jazz and soundtrack sources to digitally manipulated fragments of sound and R&B acapellas. That's not to discount it or its originality: that it finds an affinity in a mostly outmoded genre is merely a stylistic surfeit, and indeed Balam Acab's music owes much to the ghostly garage and dubstep peddled by Burial and soundalikes as well. And, anyway, Wander / Wonder is Koone's best work yet, pulling together all the loose ends of his oeuvre into something sleek and obsidian. Almost every track on Wander / Wonder floats in and out gradually, taking upwards of thirty seconds to fade in and out, meaning that even Koone's miniature drops feel massive. Indeed, after the operatic tension building of cresting opener "Welcome," the way "Apart" hip-hop beat crashes into view is like an earthquake in fuzzy slippers. Allowing digital dilapidation to eat through his tracks, Koone cherishes timestretch artifacts and turns them into rhythmic accents, so on tracks like "Now Time" the drums sound like they're colliding and sliding around each other. The vocal processing is familiar, but Koone's style is distinct. His voices tend to dance and sway in theatrical tandem ("Motion"). They're still pitched up but they're less alien than the norm, and their words are shredded into wordless syllables that remain riveting even without meaning. It all comes to a head on "Oh, Why," four minutes of plaintive piano and coarse gravel washes under poignant R&B drama. The simplistic and straightforward construction could be cloying in the hands of a lesser producer, but Koone manages to wring a near verse-chorus-verse structure out of those touching warbles. "Oh, Why" might be the most gorgeous moment on Wander / Wonder, but for most of the album's 40 minute duration Koone sustains a mood of dumbstruck, pained beauty. It's wounded but never depressive, brooding but somehow uplifting. See Birds, was a promising debut, but Wander / Wonder is the kind of record that can pull you into its emotional undertow from the minute those helium angels start singing.
  • Tracklist
      01. Welcome 02. Apart 03. Motion 04. Expect 05. Now Time 06. Oh, Why 07. Await 08. Fragile Hope