Be warned, fans of instrumental work: Will Samson‘s album is quite heavy on the vocals. With understandable lyrics and everything! There’s no charter for ignoring singers at A Closer Listen, just that our natural inclination is towards songs and sounds without words. But Balance relies a lot more on atmosphere, and Samson’s voice (imagine Antony sampled through a Jonsí machine) sits within the music rather than on top of it, a fragile instrument threatening to crack and disappear at any moment, so it shouldn’t alarm or distress any visitors to ACL.
The overall impression that Balance conjures is of a lo-fi folk album, recorded on a cassette player’s built-in microphone and then lost down the back of the sofa for half a decade. There’s no small amount of tape hiss here, which adds to the atmosphere and lends a hazy feel to the songs, obscured as they are by a layer of Dolby-free gauze. The opening “Oceans Are Wilder” is the whole album in a microcosm: a delicate toy piano, ambient waves, Samson’s voice – sometimes sampled, sometimes multi-tracked – and a rich organic hum filling out the arrangement. It’s an almost heartbreakingly beautiful sound.
Samson began recording the album in a house shared with five others, and so he had to balance (hey!) his work; waiting for times when the house was quiet enough to make music but without disturbing the others in their slumber. The hushed approach gives Balance a four-in-the-morning feel – not in the alcohol-fuelled comedown sense, but rather capturing the sense of wonder at the first rays of dawn on the horizon, the birds warming up their voices, the feeling of nature awakening again while most humans sleep on. Although the record was completed in a more sympathetic recording environment, the spirit of the earlier work was retained; it’s an album that relies more on feel than on melody.
That’s not to say there aren’t tunes on Balance; it’s hard not to be swept along by the lilting guitar of “Painting The Horizon”, for example, but the overall impression is not what Samson is saying but how he’s saying it. Where many home-recordists tend toward a crunchy digital sound, this music is full of analogue spaces, made up of sounds that would be removed by other artists and engineers. The result is an album that’s warm and welcoming, like a hot bath at the end of a busy day. (Jeremy Bye)