The Balustrade Ensemble - Capsules
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The Balustrade Ensemble

In some ways, The Balustrade Ensemble is a bit of a seriously fringe supergroup. Just about every single contributor to Capsules has not only released solo work, but also collaborated with a slew of other artists as well. Wendy Allen has done vocals for Howard Hello, Court And Spark, and others, while Liam Singer has released a solo album and performed on a variety of different albums. Scott Solter has released a couple different solo albums and done production work for a lot of different artists, and several of the aforementioned artists also play in a group called Boxharp.

Coming together on this release that they describe as "steampunk ambient" (which sort of embraces a love of antiquated and mechanical devices to create their sound), The Balustrade Ensemble create semi-spooky parlor music that is centered around regular instruments like guitar, piano, and cello, but is also adorned by junk-shop sounding percussion, toy instruments, pedal steel, and a batch of digital processing. Equal parts smokey, murky, delicate, and haunting, it's an odd little ambient release that sounds similar to a lot of different things without sounding much like anything at all.

"Glorianders" opens the release, and just about the time that the almost operatic vocals of Allen seem like they're going to be a bit much, they get hit with processing and swirled in alongside some brittle guitar granulation and other swimming sounds. Eventually, the track breaks free into a more open space, allowing some acoustic guitar to breath out some picked notes, but it again gets overtaken with a cloud of panning sounds before moving onto the next piece. Both "The Drowning Calm" and "Tangle In Delirium" work with similar sound sources and are spit out the other side in a somewhat like-minded manner, with watery processing and stuttering instrumentation creating warm baths of sound that are sometimes accentuated with ghostly vocals and other instrumental (piano, pedal steel) flourishes.

With often very strong melodies, the sheer amount of filtering on the instrumentation is sometimes frustrating (and feels a bit antagonistic even), as there's rarely a moment where a single performance is allowed to simply play through. When it does (as on "Incarnadine" and "Szól A Zene"), the result is incandescent, while still keeping the same curio-shop feel that the full album breathes with. Lovely at times and a little frustrating in others, Capsules is a unique little release that should appeal to fans of Type Records and other eerie ambient music.

rating: 6.7510
Aaron Coleman 2008-05-01 21:10:29