Balam Acab Wander/Wonder

[Tri Angle; 2011]

Styles: beats & samples, trip-hop, post-dubstep, kinda sorta not really witch house
Others: James Blake, Clams Casino, J Dilla

“A wandering minstrel he, a thing of shreds and patches/ Of ballads, songs, and snatches/ And dreamy lullaby…” Nice dreams, that would be. What possible teenage prodigy Alec Koone (a.k.a. Balam Acab) does extremely well are crisp crunchy beats immersed in a structuralized aural fog. In other words, this is music for stoners par excellence — not so much Wandering as watery eyes. But the stone in question may be standing, an obelisk or menhir, mysterious yet picturesque. In contrast to fellow creators of beat landscapes, then, Koone creates lusher environments; there is no sense of the attempt to create a typically dark Burial-esque mood nor of any fear of employing beauty and melody (which nonetheless remain outside any typical pop structure).

However, this on its own is not enough to carry Wander/Wonder. In crafting “See Birds,” the single that launched a thousand blog posts, Balam Acab brought the art described above to a point of perfection, mingling a melancholy and introspective (but unclichéd) sensibility with both a dubby sense of structure and a lingering redolence of the natural world. The question, as always in the age of micro-trend moments and instant gratification, is where to from here? — as if we are lost in the jungle of a video game, whose identical forests form a cycling backdrop to the main action, which itself remains obscured by the thickets.

The first track, simply titled “Welcome,” is promising: the architectural aspects of Koone’s work, and the contrast between clean and crackly, are tantalizingly highlighted. But we discover that this welcome is both conditional (inasmuch as it is conditioned by its history) and deceptive, in that as the album unfolds, there is a genericness of atmosphere that, while not unpleasant, fails to blossom into anything more. Most of the tracks employ a similar skeleton: the abovementioned basics, over which glide peaceful piano chords, chipmunked vocal loops, and organic samples. It’s almost as if Deep Forest had grown up and gone emo.

That characterization (appropriately) is perhaps a little malicious. Nonetheless, the combination of an air of mysticism and the sylvan exotic, with a lurking darkness that never quite materializes, are characteristic of Wander/Wonder. Aptly, Balam Acab was a Mayan deity responsible both for the creation of the rainbow and for the death of his own wife. Our own New Age version of Mayan lore, though, focuses less on personality and more on prophecy in the context of a too-comfortable present in which we fear for the future (while this fear itself can be seen as the desire for a more visceral reality in a technologically mediated age). It wouldn’t be stretching the bow too far to see this paradigm embodied in Alec Koone’s music.

Links: Balam Acab - Tri Angle

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