REVIEW: Balance And Composure – Separation

Exclusive Stream: Balance And Composure’s “Quake”

Artist: Balance And Composure
Album: Separation
Genre: Indie Rock
Label: No Sleep

Balance and Composure were clearly inspired when they picked their band name, for it’s the perfect description of their music. It captures all the exquisitely contained, yet effervescent resonance of this record, which beats with a subtle but clear heart and mixes atmosphere and thrills to near perfection.

Although determined to put you on a downer, “Void” is a fantastic song. The vocals cut through like an echoing siren call through a desolate landscape, rendering it instantly atmospheric and alluring. The drums arrive a little later, with backup guitars which add to the existing maze, bridging layers in the puzzle. It’s slow-burning but feels intensive, each vocal melody and rhythm carefully crafted to hold steadfast and evocative attention. “Separation” takes a more energetic approach at first – a dual vocal line beautifully mixes higher notes and emotional resonance with a more monotone lead voice. The percussion undulates authoritatively over some pensive guitars, building momentum during the chorus. There’s an interplay between drums and voice that is almost bewitching, again prompting the likening to a darkly covered secret, broken occasionally by bursts of luminous sound.

“Quake,” with its stripped down instrumentation, immediately strikes a contrasting tone. The sense of solitude and self-awareness is vivid and complex, as even when the guitars take a stronger role and the vocals sweep up there’s a heroic sense of the enigma here. As the song progresses, it becomes more forceful and potent, the vocals turning guttural as if to imply desperation. Indeed, the emotion is palpable throughout this album, as is the recurring trend of an ever present and determined riff – barely there, yet the anchor of each song.

As its predecessor, “Stonehands” has a muted beginning, the gradual entry of backing music then spurred on by a grim drum line. It never loses this steady, swaying beat, remaining slow and reflective throughout. This is, further, the first song in which the bass feels more prominent. It makes for a temporary lull in proceedings, with its slower pace highly representative of the album’s sound though more individualistic in tone and execution.

“I Tore You Apart In My Head” brings the potency crashing back. It breaks immediately from the ambiguity lingering in the wake of the previous track, and essays a more aggressive sound, including fiercer vocals. The verses are softer however, when the band allow more genuine sentiment to temper the anger petering through the bridges and chorus. It segues magnificently into “Galena” with a stunning guitar riff. Solos join the fray, challenging the austerity of the singing and adding a touch of spice and invention. Considering how robustly it opens, it actually progresses quite slowly, though the bridge after the second verse builds a delicious wave of anticipation.

“Fade” and “Progress, Progress” are of a similar mould, frenetic, with charged vocals. “More to Me” initially returns to the sober tone that so defines the record. However, this is then derided by a sinister wave of rushing guitars. It picks up in pace eventually, but a disembodied six string buried somewhere in the mix hints at a well of vulnerability beneath the anguished force of the music.

“Echo” is presumably named for the one calling voice that lingers eerily in a musical netherworld throughout. There is but one guitar hovering underneath, threatening to intervene – and it’s to the band’s credit that it always feels more removed than the vocal line, which takes centre stage with a melancholy, beautiful lament. Yet, for all its peaceful atmospherics, it feels heavy, as though burdened with a more intimate layer of thought. “Patience” however compensates for the minimalism by raging in, with an intensive chorus whose lyrical subject matter is well expressed by the indiscriminate melee of sound. The second verse gives way to a more sensual afterthought and the music drains away to become lighter and airier, as though escaping a storm to find only nothingness in the aftermath.

“Defeat the Low” is strangely imbalanced – not in a bad way, more that the singing hints at nostalgic bitterness while the music feels enlivened and bolder. The latter is not quite as acidic as the tone, perhaps, though this mismatched vibe does somehow work for the song. A menacing breakdown midway through paves the way for a wildly ambitious solo. It’s strange how all the elements somehow feel like a background aspect, yet all together make for instantly commanding magic. The song and album fade out on a mournful piano note, a tasteful and elegant yet perfectly bleak denouement that complements the sullen vibe throughout.

I’d almost be tempted to sum this up in one word, and that word would be fabulous. It has the same blurred sense of grandeur and simple beauty that informs La Dispute, yet it’s probably (dare I say) more accessible. A daring and breathtaking study in tone and atmosphere, it’s brilliantly realized and a stunning ensemble piece.

Score: 9/10
Review written by: Grace Duffy

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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