The Marmalade Balloon is the debut album from a quintet of classically-trained musicians (including a member of the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and both the Baltimore and Richmond symphonies) and one indie rock musician (Joshua Lee Kramer, a member of Matt Pond PA) that have gone for something completely different on this thirteen track album. Mixing together viola, cello, french horn, oboe, and vintage synths, this brief, thirteen track album is entirely blissed-out, floating on soft clouds of aforementioned instrumentation in understated, but quite lovely ways.
Coming in somewhere between the ambient work of Brian Eno (think Discreet Music) and the soft string pulses of Stars Of The Lid, Mic Nonet are rather singular in focus, and the short tracks on this release evolve with such a deliberate pace that they sound like slow motion improvisations, where silence often plays just as dramatic role as the instrumentation. A perfect example of this is "Darana," which at almost six minutes is the longest track on the release. Over a soft bed of synths, a french horn plays a quiet melody before melancholy strings enter. As the song progresses, each instrument gets its turn, and in places it all falls away to either a lone quiet synth hum or nothing at all.
Largely, other tracks on the album move in similar ways, with the viola and cello taking lead a good portion of the time while the french horn and oboe provide warm accents. The synth hangs around most of the time as well, largely providing a delicate wash that's never overtly analogue or buzzy. All the ingredients slide together nicely, overlapped each other while never fighting for attention. If all of the above makes the release sound like it's playing a bit too nice for you, it likely is. There are no real teeth to The Marmalade Balloon (and with a title like that, would you expect it?), but this uniformity also keeps it consistently nice. It's very pretty, but also completely unobtrusive, making it a sort of sonic wallpaper that drifts by in the background. Of course, the same charges have been leveled at Eno himself and he did just fine, but here's hoping that this group mixes things up a bit more on their next release.