Balam Acab- Wander/Wonder

written by: September 15, 2011
Release Date: August 29, 2011


The first track on Balam Acab’s debut album, Wander/Wonder, contains a genuinely shocking surprise. The intro track, appropriately titled “Welcome,” is about five minutes long, and four of those minutes consist of a dreary, post-apocalyptic drone. But in that last minute, the song throws a curveball and something powerful happens: The track’s looped samples of dust and ruin peel away to reveal something lighter, something vibrant, something absolutely beautiful.

It’s hard to capture in words, but the magnificent contrast between the dark and empty first half of the song and the lush, serene end is near-perfect. It’s almost breathtaking in the way that it happens and flawless in its transformation. This might sound overblown, but it truly is a powerful moment and a great start to a fantastic album — and hopefully a fantastic career.

If pushed to categorize Balam Acab, one might be tempted to call it ambient music — it is certainly a slower, downtempo affair, where sounds are given a large amount of space to grow and interact — but there are a lot of different elements at play here that keep Wander/Wonder from being so easily defined and sorted. It’s sort of synth-heavy, but it isn’t really an electronic album. It masterfully uses syncopated loops and samples, but it definitely isn’t a dance album. It has a very retro, naturalistic feel, but it’s absolutely still fresh, exciting and new.

The standout track on Wander/Wonder is “Apart,” which is probably the closest the album really gets to a true “single.” It has a stronger driving pulse of drums than any of the other tracks, and it is the only one that can be taken out of context and fully enjoyed. Other tracks on the album are all equally strong, but they don’t really stand on their own as much as they contribute to the album as a whole and grand unified vision.

This is not a radio-friendly recording, where you can pick one track you like and listen to it until your ears bleed. This is an album meant to be experienced from start to finish, stronger because of the way the tracks interact and build when played together in sequence.

It’s a bold move to make an album that can’t be chopped up for use in commercials or played in short bursts over FM transmissions, but here it pays off masterfully. At only 36 minutes long, a full runthrough of Wander/Wonder isn’t an excessive time commitment; the record breezes on by and leaves the listener ready for more.

One could probably spend a hundred pages trying to explain each little sound texture, each nuance, or each vocal sample and how they all play off of each other but still couldn’t really explain what’s at play within Wander/Wonder. It’s just something you have to hear and evaluate for yourself. So stop reading, go out there and listen to a track, or two, or all eight. You might just find one of the most interesting and unique albums released in months.

Balam Acab — Wander/Wonder Tracklist:

  1. “Welcome”
  2. “Apart”
  3. “Motion”
  4. “Expect”
  5. “Now Time”
  6. “Oh, Why”
  7. “Await”
  8. “Fragile Hope”