Twenty-year-old Alec Koone is the man behind Balam Acab. Or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that Alec Koone is the man way behind Balam Acab. While some artists’ faces and personalities are inextricably tied to their music, the young Pennsylvania producer’s first full length could not sound more detached from any semblance of artistic ego. If LCD Soundsystem’s first album is like meeting the coolest kid on the block, Wander / Wonder is like discovering a long lost path through the woods.
The album is a landscape of delicate chimes, occasional string riffs, rumbling bass drops, splashing water and fluttering wings. Interspersed within this eerie terrain are a series of ghost-like vocal samples that are equal parts unintelligible and tender. And while sample pioneers like DJ Shadow consistently reinforced their presence behind the boards with scratches and effects, Balam Acab’s vocal samples remain unadulterated — they merely float amidst the other textures on a given track. The juxtaposition between the electronic and the natural creates an uncanny atmosphere immediately apparent on the album’s opener, “Welcome.” Between this track and the otherworldly cover art the listener should have a good idea what he or she is in for at this point.
At only 37 minutes long, Wander / Wonder is over rather quickly. But given the disc’s narrow focus, this feels like an appropriate amount time to spend within the atmosphere. The individual songs are difficult to distinguish aside from the occasional vocal sample that contains the track’s title. The album does flourish with regard to pacing — Koone refuses to submit to current paradigms that would have his compositions escalating and climaxing without surprise. Instead, Koone lets his songs evolve and grow naturally without forced intervention — further reiterating the nature theme that’s so important to the record.
Wander / Wonder manages to walk the impressive line between the minimal and the complex. Every track is layered exceptionally well and the space in between notes is often just as important as that which is heard. “Except,” one of the album’s clear highlights, is a sublime song that exudes confidence and boasts one of the more memorable moments on the album as an array of orchestral strings loop alongside accelerating drums to close out the final third of the track. Overall, the album is something to be experienced — Koone has grown an impressive garden of sounds and I’m sure he’s excited to guide us through even greener grasses in years to come.
Teebs – Ardour
Shlohmo – Places EP
Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children
Stream: Balam Acab – “Oh Why”