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Clear Language
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  • Personnel: Aisha Burns (violin, viola).
  • Recording information: Church House Studios.
  • Clear Language is the first full-length from the ever-evolving Austin post-rock ensemble Balmorhea since 2012's Stranger, which was their busiest, most eclectic, and most groove-oriented work to date. Here, they practically push the reset button and recall the rustic simplicity of their 2007 debut. The album was composed and primarily performed by Balmorhea's core duo of Rob Lowe and Michael Muller, with violin and viola by Aisha Burns, who has been an indispensable part of Balmorhea since their second album. The ten compositions are mostly under four minutes each, and they gently unfold, gradually introducing intimately recorded guitars, strings, and light synthesizers, as well as the occasional presence of humming insects and other natural sounds. While the tracks seem to drift and stir more than propel, they're not just aimless mood pieces. Some of the melodies might be simple and airy, but they are memorable, and their unhurried pace helps them seem welcome and at home. Unlike Stranger, drums are a secondary concern on this album. A couple tracks feature softly thumping drum machines, including "Sky Could Undress," maybe the album's hookiest song (incidentally, its main melody happens to bear a slight resemblance to Fun.'s "We Are Young"). The album's longest and most ambitious piece is the six-minute "Slow Stone," which begins with rustling footsteps and a melancholy organ drone, and puts the focus on solemn trumpet and crystalline keyboards. A soothing layer of fuzz guitar and a calm piano melody simmer everything down, but then there's an unexpected coda featuring a burst of hardcore drumming submerged under more ethereal guitar fuzz. Moments like this, as well as the following Fennesz-like melodic guitar noise piece "Ecco," keep the album from sounding like a soundtrack for perfect Kodak moments the way some other post-rock and neo-classical groups tend to be. Gorgeous and reflective, while also slightly cracked (to its advantage), Clear Language finds Balmorhea turning to their past for inspiration without retracing their steps. ~ Paul Simpson
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