Chantal Acda
The Balustrade Ensemble
Ten Favourite Labels 2015

Chantal Acda
The Balustrade Ensemble
Basic Soul Unit
Bersarin Quartett
Bing & Ruth
Wil Bolton
Ian William Craig
Cryo Chamber Collab.
Dikeman Noble Serries
Paul Ellis
Ensemble Economique
Reiko Füting
Jim Ghedi
Hakobune & Dirk Serries
Mary Halvorson
Chihei Hatakeyama
Iskra String Quartet
Mano Le Tough
Deborah Martin
Lubomyr Melnyk
Multicast Dynamics
James Murray
Mute Forest
New Order
Ø [Phase]
Post Office
Nadia Reid
Max Richter
Will Samson
Time Is a Mountain
Michael Trommer
Tuxedo. / Cult W. No Name
Understated Theory
Zero T

Compilations / Mixes / Remixes / Reissues
Sylvain Chauveau
John Foxx & Harold Budd
Mathew Jonson
Le Freak

EPs / Cassettes / DVDs / Mini-Albums / Singles
Mr. Bios
Zero T / LSB / T. Prose / FD

The Balustrade Ensemble: Renewed Brilliance

With so much time having elapsed since the release of The Balustrade Ensemble's Capsules (Dynamophone, 2007), I'd resigned myself to accepting the fact that another by the group might not appear. Yet here we are today unexpectedly blessed with a follow-up, and better still one that reveals little alteration to the outfit's transfixing sound. Led by composer/guitarist Grant Miller and recording and mixing engineer Scott Solter, The Balustrade Ensemble has an uncanny talent for making magical music that sounds as if it comes to us from some other realm; listening to the new album, I'm reminded of nothing less than the strange yet wonderful sounds Brian Wilson created for Mount Vernon and Fairway (A Fairy Tale) (presented as a bonus EP in The Beach Boys' 1973 Holland album), one of whose song titles, “Magic Transistor Radio,” summarily describes the kind of music featured on The Balustrade Ensemble's sophomore effort.

Serein's promo text describes the group's music as “a portal to a hypnagogic anti-world where time flows in all directions,” an accurate characterization but for one detail: The Balustrade Ensemble's resplendent music typically feels more like it's coming to us from a past century than beaming back from some distant future. There's a creaky, music box-like quality to the compositions that derives in part from the songs' arrangements; in that regard, Miller and Solter are aided by guest musicians who help enrich the material with instruments both familiar and unfamiliar, specifically piano, organ, cello, harp, orchestron, mellotron, and dulcitone. On both of its releases, The Balustrade Ensemble does with apparent ease something others struggle to do: create instrumental music of imagination, originality, and artistic credibility that somehow still retains the accessibility of pop.

The lilting opener “Bathyal Reel” draws the listener into the group's seductive fantasia, with Miller's crystalline guitar melodies gracefully gliding across a delicately shimmering base, entrancement already settling in. With the listener having relocated to the group's ethereal realm, “The Lowing Herd Wind” continues the immersion with a glimmering, soft-focus soundscape of amniotic design. Elsewhere, “Show Us to the Sky” and “Aerial Verandis” gently dazzle the ear with melodious sparkle and shimmer. If there are outliers here, they're “Summerhill,” which parts company with the others in taking a darker turn into comparatively more obscure territory, and “Processionary,” a guitar-driven reverie that flickers at about twice the group's usual speed. At thirty-two minutes, Renewed Brilliance is more mini-album than album proper and thus short by CD standards. Yet it's so rich in content and so meticulous in its attention to detail, the listener isn't left dissatisfied or wanting for more when it's finished.

November 2015