The debut album from California outfit Balms moves like the steady rise and fall of a turbulent ocean. Mirror is an internal excavation of the darkest areas that exist within the subconscious of all of us, which the band calls the Shadow Self. It took years of sonic exploration to conjure each densely layered melody from a meditative and repetitive improvisation.
Balms takes the standard “rock” format and turn it on its head, shattering the preconceived notion of what the genre has to offer. They strive to establish a profound line of communication between creator and recipient, resulting in a journey steeped in self discovery. The 11 songs on Mirror bring the group to a place of personal sanctuary and healing, where the gates are open to anyone searching for a place to rest and recharge. The album was recorded by Jack Shirley (Deafheaven, King Woman, Bosse-De-Nage) and mixed by Justin Gerrish (Brand New, Vampire Weekend, The Strokes).
Listening to Mirror is like being suspended in a nightmare, but not the kind that sends you flying from the comfort of your bed. The songs open and close with a sense of comfort throughout. As the mind begins to wander into an altered state of reality, Mirror takes root in between the firing synapses of REM sleep. It unfolds with the shoegazed wall of sound “Nothing In”, where Balms drives adrenaline filled bulldozer sized melodies that shatter and shimmer like a hard summer rain. It’s like seeing a storm cloud rolling in from the distance, but then narrowly pass by before ever reaching the shore. There’s an understood sense of power and a heightened pretence of awareness as your eyes dilate in anticipation. But then the winds shift and introduce “Bones”, where the band shifts the landscape to a dynamic mixture of sights and sounds.
Throughout Mirror, Jared, Michael, and John introduce variations of fuzz fuelled guitar riffs and anthemic drums beats into a sound that feels raw to the core. Often called “dreamare pop”, their uneasy instrumentation has a dark undertone. Each song has a definite and defined cadence that weaves a common thread throughout each piece of the album, and that really drives the whole picture together. The formula might have those horror film melodies, but there’s a definite West Coast flourish that ties the black ribbon on top of the entire package. Certain songs, like the title track, have a melancholy pace, but they always come back to the main theme.
Mirror could easily be put on in the background during a contemplative evening, or stand alone in the forefront for a centre stage expedition down a stretch of endless highway. One of the incredible things about the offering Balms has created is that it constantly pulls back and forth between waking and asleep, ebb and flow, pleasure and pain. The duality the band has created makes for a powerful introduction, and sets the stage for a bright (or in this case eerily dark) future.
Release: 1st February, Bandcamp