The Balloons – 9:40pm – 3.5/5
Yes, it feels like it's time I should be writing something musical once more, and why not continue with yet another Japanese band. As much of a broken record as this probably feels now, I happen to simply be getting a lot of music of late from a place specialising in Asian artists – and believe me, there have been some pretty bad ones – but this one, well quite frankly I'm not sure if I clicked the right link, but I'm glad I did. I've always known about the significance of early math rock artists such as Slint, Don Caballero and Hella on the oncoming wave of mathcore and post-rock, but much like the latter it was not one I quite felt a part of. It all felt a bit too inconsequential; either intentionally difficult to like by the out of place technical aspect or done so subtly that it came off pretentious, the actual melodies themselves suffering as a result, but that doesn't seem to be the case here.
Much of the complexity arrives from the unusual beat structures but they're in no hurry to make them overly complex; it never feels out of place and flows off naturally with four musicians all managing to harmonise with one another perfectly fine, each transition feeling like nothing more than a change of pace; an increase the tempo and/or dissonance for the next passage lending an almost progressive feel to what otherwise would seem like slow and melodic indie rock. The post-hardcore and post-rock styles that it would go on influence are very much worn on its sleeves, contently showing no remorse at utilising soft vocals that wouldn't feel out of place with the former and meandering intertwining twangy guitar lines and smooth bass that would comfortably party with the latter.
And sadly the same issues I frequently find myself confronted with by bands in those genres is once again prevalent here: there's no real attention draw. So much of the music feels like easy listening, even despite it's complexity, that you fail to notice the detail that has gone into the composition leaving it feeling a little like a pop rock album that failed to provide a hook – or even a discernible chorus for that matter – which robs it of the albums greatest strength. As a result too many of the tracks blur together; the album will have ended and returned to the start without you noticing, which is as much a reflection on the replay value as it is the lack of a distinctivity between the tracks. Once this hurdle is overcome and you start to pay more close attention to the individual lines you realise how well worked they are; the vocals sound almost indistinguishable from any American vocalist – whether this is a compliment or not depends on which you prefer – and the guitars, whilst often utilising the same tone, always seem capable of creating an almost ambient atmospheric harmony with the bass. There's a lot to it, but it simply doesn't grip me, and how long it'll keep me interested is a very difficult thing to predict indeed.
Highlights: 9:40 PM, The Biggest Numbers Flotsam