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BALMAT

Balmat co-founders Philip Sherburne and Albert Salinas have been fans of Shy Layers’ lilting, Balearic pop for years, so when Shy Layers’ JD Walsh asked them to listen to a set of demos he was working up with fellow Atlanta multi-instrumentalist Jeff Crompton, they jumped at the chance. 

Together, Walsh and Crompton are Anagrams, and their debut album together, 'Blue Voices', might initially seem like a departure from Balmat’s habitually electronic terrain. It’s not ambient music, but it’s also not not ambient music, at least to listeners in the right frame of mind. The two musicians, who met when Walsh moved from Brooklyn to Atlanta in 2016 and began collaborating a few years later, see the music in similarly ambiguous terms. “I like it because it’s not jazz,” jokes Crompton, a veteran and credentialed jazz player. “And JD likes it because it’s jazz.”

Crompton is a musician (and former high-school band teacher) with deep roots in Georgia’s improvised and experimental music scenes; his credits include shows with Eugene Chadbourne, a guest appearance with Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and a collaboration with Duet for Theremin and Lap Steel’s 12-hour drone performance at Knoxville’s Big Ears. On 'Blue Voices' he plays alto and tenor saxophone, clarinet, electric piano, and organ. Walsh has been releasing music as Shy Layers since 2015, when he started self-releasing on Bandcamp; the following year, Germany’s Growing Bin packaged his first two EPs as a self-titled album, and in 2018, Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space label put out Shy Layers’ sophomore album, 'Midnight Marker'. Where those records channeled Walsh’s playful harmonic instincts into wistful songwriting with tropical overtones, on 'Blue Voices' he lets his experimental tendencies take the lead. Playing acoustic and electric guitars, electric lap steel, bass, Moog Matriarch, modular synth, and programmed drums, he concentrates his energies on richly textural layers and abstract assemblages of tone color.

Across the album’s 11 tracks, there are faint echoes of familiar touchstones: the atmospheric twang of Daniel Lanois’ pedal steel on 'Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks'; the mercurial modal runs of Ethio- jazz; the late-summer calm of Fuubutsushi; the versatility of players and composers like Patrick Shiroishi and Sam Gendel, who are asking similar questions about where jazz ends and some other, nameless territory begins. Mostly, though, what 'Blue Voices' captures is the quixotic sound of two restless musical imaginations making it up as they go along, two voices discovering a shared language in a hitherto unexplored shade of blue.


STAFF COMMENTS

Matt says: Ridiculously adventurous, totally uncategorizable and an absolute delight on the ears. Shy Layers delivers an impeccable album of intrigue and mystery; articulated through woodwind, toned percussion and a rich tapestry of instrumentation. So good it hurts!

TRACK LISTING

A1. Birds On Clifton
A2. Blue Voices
A3. Hymn No.2
A4. Catch It
A5. Ex Uno Plures
B1. Hidden Hearts
B2. Another Cloud
B3. Song In Six
B4. Interesting Times
B5. Let Us Sing Sad Songs Together
B6. What Is Left Is Music

Balmat is a new label with a cloudy outline.

Jointly shepherded by Philip Sherburne and Albert Salinas, two friends living in Cardedeu, Catalonia, and on the Balearic island of Menorca, Balmat grew out of Lapsus Radio, a weekly show on Spain’s Radio 3. Balmat’s mission is simple: to foster new ideas, expand upon personal obsessions, and put enveloping sounds out into the world.

“Balmat” means “empty” or “void” in Catalan. But quite apart from any negative connotations, we prefer to think of it in terms of possibility: a space waiting to be filled.

Balmat’s first release comes from Luke Sanger, a Norwich, UK-based artist whose two decades of electronic music making have encompassed a range of tools and techniques, from MaxMSP to modular synthesis. Along the way he has built an extensive catalog encompassing ambient atmospheres, abstract soundscaping, and more. With Languid Gongue, he puts multiple approaches into play. Experiments in microtonal composition balance out pieces in standard tunings, while esoteric electronic machines merge with familiar acoustic treatments and microphone techniques.

The result is a constellation of his signature sounds: freeform new-age fantasia; spring-loaded toytronic arpeggios; quartz-driven braindance clockworks. Drifting between consonant, almost lyrical compositions and shape-shifting textural sketches, the album drifts with the nonchalance of a sky-high cirrus cloud, and it glows as if illuminated from within. When we heard the material, we knew that it was the perfect choice to launch the label. To us, it sounds like a roadmap for points unknown.

TRACK LISTING

A1. Cranes And Ladders
A2. Efflorescence
A3. Phrygian Pan
A4. Cocoa And Plums
A5. Mycelium Networks
A6. Yoake
A7. All Over The Shop
B1. Archaic Landscapes
B2. Basic Lurgy
B3. Searching For The Elusive Fungi
B4. Fruity Textures
B5. Your Session Has Ended
B6. Not Quite Right
B7. Only Casino For Miles

Minor Science - aka UK-born, Berlin-based musician Angus Finlayson -makes his Balmat debut with !Absent Friends Vol. III", the third installment in a shape-shifting series across a variety of formats and platforms. And with it, he pushes forward his vision of ambient music as neither static vista or merely mood-setting atmosphere, but rather a dynamic matrix of textures, sensations, and even rhythms.

The first two "Absent Friends" - a 2014 set for Blowing Up the Workshop, and a 2017 cassette and web player for Whities (now AD93) - were hybrid affairs, part DJ mix and part collage, mostly featuring music made by other people. Then, in 2020-21, Finlayson developed the project into a live show of his own material. Armed with hundreds of bespoke stems created in his studio -idiosyncratic FX chains, feedback loops through cheap rack gear, heavily post-processed field recordings, found voices, etc. - he would improvise on four CDJs, mixer, FX, and live synths, extending techniques he learned as a club DJ into a live context, accompanied by visuals by Stockholm-based artist Paul Witherden.

"Absent Friends Vol. III" is an album of studio versions of the music developed for the live show. But in Minor Science’s world, even a category as simple as studio versions is slightly opaque. 'Most of these tracks weren’t composed in the studio,' Finlayson explains: 'The sounds started out as stems and source material for the live show, and might not have been intended to go together - but then through performance, they settled into shapes that worked. I then recreated those performances in the studio.' That organic process of ideation and realization might help explain the unusual coherence of the album, in which sounds and textures flow seamlessly from one to the next, sometimes seeming to stand still, and sometimes looping back. There are virtually no melodies, few recognizable motifs or riffs, yet the eight-track album nevertheless moves with a distinctive logic and a determined sense of purpose, from the frozen-in-time shimmer of the opening “Introduction” through the early cuts’ studies of space and light; from the seemingly autobiographical “Summer Diary” through the rushing trance (yes, trance) arpeggios of “Contingency” and on to the dulcet denouement of the closing “Gather Your Party (Dispersed Mix)".

TRACK LISTING

A1. Introduction
A2. Dread The Evening
A3. Sun Turn
A4. The Dinas Walk
A5. Summer Diary
B1. Life Texture
B2. Contingency
B3. Gather Your Party (Dispersed Mix)


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