In September of 2017 the Austin-based instrumental band Balmorhea released Clear Language, an album which prompted NPR's Bob Boilen to say "I'm madly in love with this albumâ€¦it's one these ambient records and beautiful records that I've just listened to over and over again." To create Clear Language, the duo returned to their roots, working simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise the album.
Now, just a few months later the duo returns with the CHIME / SHONE 7" vinyl for Record Store Day 2018. Recorded during the Clear Language sessions, the two tracks "Chime" and "Shone" flow gracefully with a clear-eyed sense of reflection, as these two old friends transmit unfettered meaning through simple sonic gestures that resonate with the cosmos as much as they echo the pulse of a human heart. In a culture dominated by the loudest, ostentatious voices, Lowe and Muller continue to prove the power and importance of restraint and minimalism.
A decade-plus on the road, near-constant musical output, and shifting creative priorities caused the revered Austin duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, to soberly assess the band's future. What, in the form of Balmorhea, was there left to say? And did they have the energy to say it? Stranger, the group's maximalist, genre-leaping full-length from 2012, had already seemed to trace the group's farthest bounds. And, over the years, they'd worked with a roving cast of accomplished string and rhythm players to craft a glassy-eyed, sage-brushed, instrumental Americana that, while celebrated in The New Yorker, Pitchfork and The Atlantic, among myriad other press, and attracting the film, ad, and television worlds risked pigeonholing them for good.
As they had in the beginning, in 2006, Muller and Lowe worked simply and with restraint, letting intuition guide them as they molded the 10 elegant, spacious gestures that comprise Clear Language. A relaxed, clear-eyed wonder tumbles through these songs like herons lancing through Kerouac's "hungermaking" fog. Clear Language is the sound of two friends transmitting unfettered meaning in a milieu choked by double-speak at every turn.
For the past eight years the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have nurtured and refined their creative partnership as the core members of the band Balmorhea. In 2007 they self-released their self-titled debut, an album which captures the duo's unique magic as it first blossomed. In 2014 Western Vinyl is reissuing the band's self-titled album, and making it available on vinyl for the first time.
In conjunction with the reissue, we're happy to present two new songs on a limited edition 7" record titled HEIR. With the songs created for the 7" (HEIR I and HEIR II), the band brings everything full circle, returning to the simple structures and melancholic tone that colored their first recordings. HEIR I starts things off slowly with a Wurlitzer's somber tremolo and some gently propulsive electric bass, soon joined by vibes and a soaring violin melody. HEIR II opens with a gorgeous ukulele melody, which is slowly engulfed in Kendall Clark's expressive drumming, eventually giving way to a frenetic wall of strings.
For the past eight years the duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller have nurtured and refined their creative partnership as the core members of the band Balmorhea. Though their first album on Western Vinyl Rivers Arms (2008) garnered some remarkable press, their self-titled debut, recorded in 2006 and released in 2007 best captures the duo's unique magic as it first blossomed. With no label, distributor, manager, publicist, or booking agent the duo quietly self-released their first recordings and started playing live shows. Now, seven years later Western Vinyl is honored to have the opportunity reissue the band's self-titled album, and make it available on vinyl for the first time ever.
In preparation for this special reissue, the audio was lovingly remastered, drawing out even more of the nuances... magnifying the sounds of Muller and Lowe's fingers on the instruments, and teasing out the textures that set these recordings apart from the rest of their catalog. Throughout the album the distant sounds of Texas grackles, the warm summer rain, the steady rhythm of crickets chirping, and creaking wooden stools, all seeping in to cradle the notes in a restrained din of primordial wonder.
On Stranger Balmorhea continues the cosmic dialog they began with their eponymous debut in 2007. Though the spirit of Texas' early inhabitants and the weight of the night sky inspired previous albums All is Wild, All is Silent (2009) and Constellations (2010), Stranger shifts the focus from the celestial to the terrestrial, or more accurately, it begins to explore the celestial resonance in all things terrestrial.
Balmorhea's music has always been guided by the experience of living in Texas, but with Stranger the band moves beyond contemplative reverence for the land and the history of their home state. The most forward-leaning of their catalog, Stranger presents worlds of tenderness, aggression, estrangement, and freedom using an expanded sonic palette including guitar loops, vibes, synthesizers, ukulele, and steel pan drums. In addition to these new sounds, electric guitars and percussion take the stage once occupied by piano and acoustic guitars.
Opening with the electric guitar loops, synths, and steel drums of "Days", the band invites us to move forward with them as they explore without pretense or expectation. "Pilgrim" provides the perfect ending, blurring alpha and omega...a concluding gesture taking us back to our beginnings.
In 2008 we had the honor of releasing our first Balmorhea record Rivers Arms. Though the band’s sound and size has grown, the soulful collection of songs on Rivers Arms continues to resonate with listeners. From the contented isolation of "The Winter" to the hazy heat and hopeful longing of "San Solomon," their music captures the indescribable feelings of living and growing in Texas.
Now, 4 years later, we’re excited to make this limited edition vinyl version of Rivers Arms available with 4 bonus tracks and updated artwork. Still wearing their bathing suits, Rob Lowe and Michael Muller recorded the first two bonus tracks as children jumped and splashed in San Solomon Springs (Balmorhea State Park) in the background. These two sunny guitar pieces are followed by a powerful live version of “Theme” recorded in Vienna, Austria. The final track is a version of “San Solomon” featuring live drums, recorded in 2008 for their very limited tour E.P.
Though Balmorhea's studio recordings never fail to impress, their songs have always been most powerful and affecting when performed live. The group's intense soulfulness during a live set is consistently remarkable and this special recording from Ghent, Belgium is no exception. The opening track alone is goosebump-inducing, and perfectly sets the tone for this intimate recording.
Throughout the evening the band played with so much energy and emotion that's hard to believe they had just arrived at the venue after a long sleepless drive from Spain. With massive stone walls and floors, the Saint Elisabeth Church (built in 1873) colored each song with a natural reverb and delay, while amplifying the tiniest incidental sounds from the crowd. Despite the intense cold of the unheated church, the band's fingers remained nimble, warmed only by the glow of the candles used to light the stage and the center aisle. As the candles burn out the show comes to an end with the crowd-pleaser "Untitled" followed by a solo piano encore performance of "Constellations." We hope you enjoy this recording as much as we do, and if you haven't experienced a Balmorhea show, we hope this album inspires you to check them out next time they're in your town.
Balmorhea's previous album All is Wild, All is Silent explored the freedom and isolation of settlers learning to live on an untamed frontier. It was an intensely physical album, dealing with the struggles of man on earth. By contrast, their new album Constellations shifts our focus to the cosmos and beyond, meditating solemnly on the mystical and metaphysical. For centuries humans have distilled order from the chaos of the night sky, turning a collection of bright dots into the framework for giants of myth and legend. Similarly, the tracks on Constellations serve as framework for our individual mediations on the wonders of time and space.
Austin's Balmorhea has always made beautiful music, but that pulchritude has often belied the underlying sensuality that makes their music so inviting. The band takes a giant leap forward, embracing that sensuality, on their bold and variegated new album All is Wild, All is Silent. Now a six piece with drums and upright bass, the band known for their understated simplicity and restraint has produced an album joyous, haunting, and even a little sexy.