Balam Acab is Alec Koone, a 24- year-old ambient producer that first grabbed my attention with his freshman 2011 release of “Wander/Wonder.” His variations of styles can be seen going throughout his releases.However, none of them seem forced or emotionless. While Koone‘s “Wander” was informed by the occult imagery and moody synthesizers of trendy microgenres, it by no means follows the blueprint of a generic witch-house album.
“Wander/Wonder” is not done in the way Arca’s 2015 release of “Mutant” portrayed the same themes. A dance of harshness and beauty to look deeper into the human psyche, Balam Acab finds it better being the overseer, much like the demi-god his alias is taken from. He wants the listener to find what they can from the album and pull out what they find most enchanting. In an interview with Fader Magazine, Alec mentions that, “I think the most important thing that I want to say about the record is I don’t want to say anything at all.”
There’s a true organic feel to all of his music, especially “Wander/Wonder.” Its hollowed-out percussion layered within drops of water makes it seem like he went on a vision quest for years to record this album. Ironically enough, the entire session of this album was spent recorded within his parents’ Pennsylvanian home. With the absence of lyrics, excluding minor vocal samples, there are obviously no direct topics this album initially focuses on, especially with the ambiguous titles he gave tracks like “Expect,” “Apart” and “Now Time.”
However, with this lack of direct content connection comes the subjective beauty each listener finds. With each drop of cave water and playful sample, I find myself supremely comfortable and content. There never seems to be a sense of urgency within this album, though it’s only eight songs and a mere 36 minutes.
This year, Balam Acab is looking to impress again with his recent release of “Child Death” from December. Its album cover plays out like that of a death metal band’s tough and dark aesthetic. Koone hopes that no one chooses to judge a book by its cover and gives the music a chance to speak for itself. “Child Death” is a playful nod back to his roots of “Wander/Wonder,” dripping wet and introspective. Where his first full-length left off, “Child Death” picks up the pace with a stronger sense of maturity with its utilization of live instruments.
Dropping the aesthetic of the slowly dying out witch house, Koone finds serenity with influence from genres like post-rock, IDM and various electronic music. Its genre tags on Bandcamp of experimental, punk and psychedelic manage to raise even more eyebrows. There still remains the poignant feeling that was previously marked on “Wander/Wonder,” however, there are far more layers and intricacy within the music on this new release. While it seems at times there’s a lot going on throughout songs like “ANDIWILLTELL” and ”UNDERWATER DEATH,” nothing ever gets washed out or too noise-y, still remaining soaked in euphoria, all while staying quite cohesive.
I will say that this is undoubtedly Balam Acab’s most ambitious release yet, which can most certainly leave some room for error. At times, the female vocals accompanied on most tracks can add an alluring sense of charm to each song, although other times they seem just as out of place as the double-bass and succumb to falling stale. Interestingly enough, he mentioned on his Twitter that the track “DO DEATH” is the first Balam Acab song ever written and recorded from scratch and used absolutely no samples. This in itself shows extreme growth for the advantageous artist.
Placing these flaws aside, there are many moments of absolute beauty layered throughout this five-song album. “Child Death’s” influence of post-rock throughout mainly the first two tracks manage to shine and catch attention quite effortlessly. The genre post-rock itself can at times be extremely exhaustive, sifting through many of its filler acts. Bands like Explosions in the Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor were the front-runners and gave the genre a split. Where Godspeed kept too many aspects of ambient music, Explosions in the Sky stuck more towards its on rock roots.
Balam Acab’s “Child Death” merely takes minor influences from the genre, and never succumbs to the fate that so many others have faced before him because this album isn’t post-rock by a longshot. As the album progresses into “ANDIWILLTELLU,” easily the biggest highlight of this release, you’re brought back to what made “Wander/Wonder” such a pivotal piece to his discography.
Mellow, wet and draped with hard-hitting basslines throughout, this track truly is a prime example of Koone’s full potential. Its anxiety-filled build up masterfully transposes the first half into a truly arresting fit of spastic synths, and eventually ends with a gut-wrenching performance of soulful harmonized vocals and live instruments.
Though Balam Acab’s “Wander/Wonder” made waves in the underground scene, Alec Koone, as well as his newest release, “Child Death,” still remain extremely over-looked within the music community as a whole. He managed to do all of the marketing for this release completely on his own after taking quite the hiatus from social media in general. Before the release of this album, he even managed to reach out to his fans, asking them to send him vocal samples that he may choose to sample for “Child Death.”
Although I have no confirmation on whether or not he actually used any samples or not, this really solidifies my point that he is a man of the people. Even if I have to recommend his work to people at first for merely studying, I hope that once they hear the music that something will click and leave them hooked.
Zach Ritz is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. They can be reached at ZR812833@wcupa.edu