Balam Acab’s full-length debut Wander/Wonder comes almost exactly a year after the release of his See Birds EP, the record that first announced his distinctive sound and served as the first ‘proper’ release on Tri Angle Records (strictly speaking it followed the Let Me Shine For You mixtape). The young producer (real name Alec Koone) has honed his craft in the meantime, with Wander/Wonder boasting an exquisitely textured aesthetic that’s a step up from the loop-based atmospherics of its predecessor.
Tri Angle’s releases so far have followed each other as seamlessly as a well-sequenced album, all sharing a certain loose aesthetic but each providing an enticing and unique sound of its own. In many ways Wander/Wonder sounds like a sequel or natural successor to Clams Casino’s superb Rainforest EP: both records have a deep, immersive ambience, feature distorted hip/trip-hop rhythms and are threaded together by themes of nature (as with See Birds, aquatic samples permeate Wander/Wonder). Balam Acab’s approach, however, has a more delicate beauty to it. Tracks like ‘Expect’ and ‘Now Time’ are characterised by wispy, dreamlike vocals and almost-classical structures, with recurring piano motifs.
At the risk of descending into journalistic cliches, this isn’t background music, it demands good speakers or headphones to get the full effect. One of the main developments in Koone’s music is an increased use of space and sense of depth: it’s less claustrophobic and more fully realised than on See Birds; less mechanised and more organic. The pitch-shifted vocals as well as some of the more melodic arrangements nod to R&B, while there are also shades of shoegaze, drone and James Blake’s Klavierwerke detectable in its heady, hypnotic sonic brew.
Closing track ‘Fragile Hope’ is possibly the most striking of all, its atmospheric, haunting ambience punctuated by ghostly echoes of ‘Regret Making Mistakes’ – a neatly circular touch. Wander/Wonder is the kind of album that will transport you to a whole other headspace if you allow it to. What’s more, it’s yet further evidence that Tri Angle is by now a reliable quality stamp; a byword for a unique vision of pop music that’s consistently being redefined and re-interpreted.