Balance Beta – Worldly Ambitions EP

Rating: 4/5
Distributor/label: N/A
Released: 2020
Buy Album: https://balancebeta.bandcamp.com/
Band Website: https://soundcloud.com/balance-beta/

BAND LINE-UP:

Matthew Gough
Mariano Cicciarelli

TRACKLISTING:

1. Panacea
2. Pushkar
3. Life Ends At Midnight
4. When We Do A Thing

REVIEW:

With the world presently in the midst of lurching from one crisis to another, it’s of some comfort that the arts can provide some form of relief to the seemingly endless horrors out there. Escapism has always been necessary for folk in their day-to-day lives, with these troubled times putting that practice into stark relief. Music has often been used in such a fashion, be that to dance, sing, mosh or lose yourself to, however it is electronic music that seems to have the grip of things at the moment, and there is at times no better genre to be absorbed by.

As believers in the idea that “music is organised sound”, London-based duo BALANCE BETA are demonstrably adept at crafting wonderfully arranged audio. Forming after performing together in Lithuania and deciding to collaborate, Messrs Gough and Cicciarelli produce the sort of electronic music you can absolutely get lost in. Their latest EP, ‘Worldly Ambitions’ marks a clear progression from their earlier work on ‘But not perfect’, embracing a wider range of electronic styles alongside a more progressive leaning. Where that first EP could sit comfortably alongside your club-like techno cuts, here we see elements of lo-fi, ambient and dark techno being weaved into the tapestry.

“Panacea” opens the EP brightly, with groaning synths that wouldn’t be out of place soundtracking a documentary or film score, before a simple beat kicks in and we reach the main motif of the track. Simple keys chime alongside a playful melody line, with a vocal refrain that owes a lot to world music, resulting in something rather laidback and almost summery. The overall feel is completely at odds with the spoken word passage that pops up occasionally reminding us of “the horror”, so best not get too comfortable with your cocktail out on your veranda!

Whilst “Panacea” may possess some summery vibes (even if they are rather more “warm summers day in January due to impending global climate catastrophe”), experience suggests that BALANCE BETA would not get much airplay in a regular club setting. The beats are solid, but their overall outlook is perhaps a little too dark and progressive for the more conventional mob. This is particularly notable with the EP’s centrepiece tracks in “Pushkar” and “Life Ends At Midnight”.

Of the former, it carries a driving beat throughout and utilises more of those world-influenced vocals to add a delightful sense of mysticism to the layers of stuttering synths and a machine-like glissandi lick that pricks the ears up. It isn’t a track that immediately screams “dark”, but those sublime vocal samples contribute largely to it. The drawn-out lines and intriguing melodies make for a delicious combination with the simple progression beneath, and give further evidence that marrying Eastern-influenced music to Western-influenced music can produce some aural gold.

Yet for the EP’s true allusion to darkness, we must turn to the somewhat ominously-titled “Life Ends At Midnight”, which opens much where “Pushkar” left off. A simple beat, swelling synths and vocal samples combine to drive the track onwards, with yet more of those world-influenced vocals adding that sense of mysticism again. It all builds to a groaning drop that, whilst owing somewhat to lo-fi, sounds completely gargantuan and obsidian at once. Supposedly, the drop is all anyone looks forward to in clubland, but this one feels like it slams hard with existential dread – there’s a dance challenge for that in there somewhere. The builds to it are slow and gradual, eschewing the usual incrementing snare hits, but they make you want that drop even more, especially with the silence just before it. Teases.

Rounding off proceedings is the considerably brighter “When We Do A Thing”, which would ably work atop a content creator’s video on YouTube (what that content would be is up to you, but the rounded synth line that opens it lends itself to a gaming channel). The slower tempo and tumbling, trickling tine-like lead line almost gives it the accolade of being the soundtrack to surfing the web – a sea of ones and zeroes rolling past in a flash of colour and inappropriate Wish.com ads. It is a gentle build that won’t fail in its attempts to lodge itself somewhere comfortable in the brain, so prepare to hum those melodies whilst you go about your lockdown fare. “When I do a thing, I like to do it right” goes the vocal sample and BALANCE BETA can certainly attest to that.

Theirs may not be the most accessible of electronic music to many – the lack of a recognisable verse-chorus structure will put a lot off, whilst the various shifts in mood and the build-drop payoff may dissuade those that are looking for simple lo-fi hip-hop beats to study/relax to. But for those that are interested in smart-thinking electronic music, that touches elements of progressive and world music, and is produced to a crisp, clear finish, will find joy with BALANCE BETA. ‘Worldly Ambitions’ demonstrates a duo capably melding their influences and making music for themselves, with a magic nous for finding that little melodic lick or vocal hook that will stick with you. Their ambitions may be worldly, but they have the music to back it up (even if they must remain home for the foreseeable).

REVIEW BY LEE CARTER

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