Balam Acab: Wander / Wonder (Tri Angle)
Balam Acab suffered the worst case of being lumped in with so-called “witch house” when his stellar debut EP surfaced a while back. Sure, his music is otherworldly and at times quite haunting, but the pastiche and oversimplification of “witch house” (the worst stigmatization of a faux genre since “electroclash”) seemed especially unfair for Balam Acab. It threatened to neuter him before he even really hit a stride, but thankfully he pushed onward and upward with Wander / Wonder, a slinky, seductive album that hones his chops as a sample manipulator and beatmaker. “Welcome” is a fantastic intro to the album, starting quietly and slowly building into something languid and seductive. He exercises a bit of a formula over many of the album’s tracks, which might sound familiar to those who’ve practically worn out his EP (like I have, out of love) – he tends to lock his targets on a vocal phrase or sample and then manipulate it out of range, either higher or lower than the source. However, he does a good job of obscuring the source sound to be another melodic or sonic element rather than a lead vocal. Rarely are any of the lyrics coherent enough to make them out. The first several tracks build on each other, gaining momentum, but with “Expect” he breaks out of the downtempo groove and throws down a cut-time kick midway which is a welcome change of pace. It’s a smart placement dead center in the album, sort of an energy bell-curve. But more often than not, the palette of sound is quite reserved and elegant, lots of reverb, delicate melodic elements, dusty, minimal downbeat loops and a ghostly sheen over the whole sound. This doesn’t necessarily take it to a dark place, but rather to somewhere more intimate, sweet and beautiful. One of my personal favorites is “Oh, Why,” which practically brings a tear to my eye — it’s that gorgeous.