Over the last few years, Austin, Texas duo Balmorhea has been gaining recognition for their low-key, folk-infused take on post-rock and modern classical. Balmorhea's third full-length, out on Western Vinyl, aspires to achieve a richer sound by adding a full band and taking more cues from their post-rock contemporaries.
Restrained would be a good way to describe the previous works of this young group. Both the self-titled debut and "Rivers Arms" albums avoided the exasperating clichés of the post-rock formula, much of the time adhering to simple guitar or piano melodies. There were no peaks and valleys. "All is Wild, All is Silent" eschews this simplicity, opting to incorporate the more traditional elements of the genre into Balmorhea's dust-covered folk sensibilities.
Although the results aren't entirely as one would expect, "All is Wild, All is Silent" operates very much like a genre pendulum, swinging back and forth between beautiful, quiet expressions and melodramatic swells. "Settler" marks a distinct change for the band, and is comprised of three movements. The opening portion is a joyous ode to strings, piano, banjo and drums. The midsection treads foggy ambiance, with light vocals and strings. Balmorhea brings it all back together in a ridiculously grandiose fashion-- down-south stomping, hand-clapping and banjo-plucking galore.
"Hum and Boon" starts similarly to the older works of Balmorhea, featuring solo piano, but eventually adds percussion and electric guitar. Another long piece with all of the build and release one has come to expect from post-rock. Although "Remembrance" introduces vocal accompaniment, again we hear the standard quiet-to-loud dynamics. These tracks do still retain a bit of Balmorhea's folk leanings, but the overuse of tired genre blueprints only serves to dilute their interesting style.
Balmorhea fares better on stripped down segues like "March 4, 1981," which is a Max Richter-esque snapshot of solo piano work. These simple pieces grant respite from all of the ham-fisted crescendo riding that constitute a sizable chunk of "All is Wild, All is Silent." The greatest successes are experienced on "Coahuila" and "Truth." Both of these pieces demonstrate an ability to expand beyond minimal textures to different territories while still gripping the listener.
"Coahuila" manages to do quite a bit in its short time. This is a song of redemption in a manner that extends beyond tone. It is among the most interesting pieces on the album, managing to outshine the bloated monuments surrounding it. "Truth" slinks, head low along somber piano keys, eventually mustering the strength to lift its head to the sky. Again, Balmorhea avoids a majority of the stifling bloat seen on earlier pieces, building to a logical climax free of the false starts and stammers that plague the other longer pieces.
"All is Wild, All is Silent" is the work of a band not only growing in numbers, but growing artistically, still searching for a voice. The album feels haphazard, but not in a track-by-track manner. Longer tracks fumble with awkward transitions, mood shifts, and tempo swings that distract and fail to have meaningful impact. In many cases, the independent parts of Balmorhea's approach are more interesting than the sum.
One would think residing in the same city that spawned post-rock giants Explosions in the Sky would push Balmorhea to continue moving in new directions away from the conventions their peers seem to have monopolized. With that said, "All is Wild, All is Silent" does have its own distinct quirks and is still a worthwhile listen for those predisposed to enjoyment of the genre. Those hoping for something a bit less typical may find themselves disappointed. 6/10 -- Robert Oberlander (22 July, 2009)