As Constellations is a concept record about “the cosmos and beyond,” the route that Balmorhea has taken to realizing this concept is simply remarkable. Digital music-making equipment has defined the realm of all things cosmic in a way that is now somewhat predictable; it seems that space is musically textured by long, drawn-out electronic ambience. Occasionally, this ambience might be accented by the use of analog instruments, such as violin, but it’s uncommon for said instruments to be fully embraced in their classical beauty.
Luckily, armed with the analog prowess to create rich foundations through the use of piano, acoustic guitar, violin, upright bass, and banjo, Austin’s Balmorhea are capable of creating much more than the sounds that are in the tried-and-true repetoire of “spacey.” With Constallations, they don’t use synthesizers to manipulate dreamy textures. Instead, using comforting instrumentation that really soaks its depth into your body, Balmorhea manage to capture a feeling that space is much bigger than we can ever imagine.
The album begins cautiously with “To The Order Of Night.” It ambles along with slow, thoughtful piano, like a child learning of a brand new world — or it may even be the new world itself, forming and building. From a distance, the growth seems gradual. But by the second track, “Bowsprit,” the infant seems to have reached the next chapter of its life; it is now growing at a visible, continuing rate. Flumes of acoustic guitar and violin weave in and out of each other playfully, and after the song slows down for a contemplative string-heavy bridge, banjo and thunderous percussion join back in for a truly epic, chaotic closing.
Listen to “Bowspirit” – DOWNLOAD MP3
Rather than feeling like a micro look at planets from within their atmospheres, Constellations feels much more like a macro look of the relationship of each cosmic body to others in the universe. Whereas the aforementioned spacey textures succeed in providing one with the feeling of calm and ambient stability on foreign planets, Constellations cascades with classical radiance. It captures not just the romanticized notion of space — although the sounds on the disc are no doubt beautiful — but the frenzied, unknown reality of it as well. Less relevant are chords and harmonies; more relevant are the notes played individually — whether it be on piano, guitar, or banjo — and how they fit into the perfectly formed whole. When pianos sprinkle in and out on the title track, one gets the feeling that stars are twinkling and forming with every note of the piano — an stretch of an idea, perhaps, unless one is really paying attention, but when one hankers down to really feel the song, the weight of the piano really sinks in.
Constellations is a concept album that can accurately be described by the word “majestic.” It’s remains so from start to finish, and it is rare to find a moment on the disc where the band does not do the cosmos justice.