It's almost a year since Balto's debut album "October's Road" found me and it's now fondly located on the bowing shelves and features in my playlists more than ever. I meant to write about this latest release but a holiday to Malta put that on hold until now. The least I could do was take these six new songs with me and play them as I relaxed, watching the world moving in and around the harbour directly below our balcony. (A selfless act but that's just who I am). I was keen to listen to more of Daniel Sheron's music, to discover progression in his beautiful sound and to see if the growing affinity I have with music from Portland, Oregon would deepen. "Monuments" did not disappoint.
This is modern balladry with twists and turns in all the right places. It's beautiful music and needs to be heard. There's a deft balance struck on the EP offering both faithful continuity to 'October's Road' with a freshness and depth in styles and direction. The debut was the achingly honest and heartfelt telling of a journey away from a love lost and toward personal rediscovery. The music fittingly charted the changing moods; abandonment became anger became self-pity became freedom became hope became rebirth. I was absorbed by the story as much as the music because of Sheron's ability to paint with words, represent everyday feelings so clearly using subtle imagery and affect a rich beauty from simplicity. The same ethos is at the centre of these songs and the appeal is as strong as ever throughout.
Look, the EP will cost you $4 via this link http://balto.bandcamp.com and you can listen to the songs first. So for around the price of a pint you could do the necessary clicking while I tell you what I thought about the songs....
"Smokestacks" is an upbeat number that rises in spritely fashion after a rumbling start. If you want to know what a typical Balto track can sound and feel like then this is great starting point. It's worth saying now that the help enlisted by Daniel are all wholly accomplished musicians in their own right, so if you think this sounds a bit good for a band you hadn't heard until now then that's why. The song has the same uplifting effect on me as Megafaun's 'Worried Mind' in some ways which is probably why it took just two listens to get it. That and it bears probably the closest relation to the debut LP though it's a bit lighter in spirit.
'Gravestones' reminded me how intricate and intelligent Daniel's lyrical work is. There's a genuine communal vibe to this track owing largely to great backing vocals and a simple tambourine. Music is written by people for people and good sounds like this make you want to be with people, sharing the whole experience of life. Sounds corny? Well try the song first and then tell me it doesn't sound like a load of fun to record. The spirit of the song adds more to the music itself I reckon.
'Airplanes' is the standout track for me. The lead vocals, the backing, the slide guitar, the steel, the orchestration; they all add emotion in multiplicity. "I want to get it right this time" is the beautiful line that sealed this one as the brightest star. That said the production is also better than anything I'd heard by Balto before too which is saying something. There roots of the song are still firmly in "roots" but the extra production adds an intensity I've found hard to resist to the point where I've actually stopped trying.
'Cavalry' as the name suggests has a military theme due not only to the regularity of the snare but also the smart wordplay. By this point if you're not loving the vocals and clarity of the stories being told (think Paul Simon with more drawl if you need a "sort of" comparison) then maybe this is never going to do it for you. The piano and sing-a-long vibe added to brilliant guitar and banjo (?) work make this an authentic sound my dad will be proud I'm listening to. What we know as Americana my dad would just call good music based on better music. That said I think he'll like this one. We'll see when I play it to him at the weekend.
'Doves' will appeal to the aspiring poets with a penchant for listening to good music. I don't normally do examples but it's so good and crammed that I will. One charmingly simple line "So I went down to the river, broke the ice and sang the saddest song I know. With the water to my waist I came to know I was afraid to turn and go". There you go. I've listened to this so many times just trying to enjoy the words of the verses that I started to forget that I really like the music too. One great thing with Balto's music is the orchestration is so faultless you can find yourself even more involved in the lyrical dance than you would with some other artists. Then when it comes to a bridge or a chorus the music is so uplifting that you can step away from the words and float with the layers of instrumentation instead.
'Monuments' is the closing track to the EP which actually feels more like a (mini) album. The track has a slow blues feel to start with, a rolling ballad character in the build-up and emerges as a warm and full sounding finale by the chorus. It definitely makes the perfect choice for how to bring the EP to a close. The brass adds a fresh backing to Balto's sound here, as it does elsewhere on the EP and I like the way that as the song slows down to its end, that it's the collective of musicians that have the final word, note and splash. This is a joint effort to achieve the richness of sound and the vocals just one part of that production.
I don't want to bore you too much. (Well done if you got this far) What else can I say? If you like the sort of music I normally write about then this is definitely your thing. If you love your Leeds alt-folk / folk-tinged indie then you'll probably find a lot of things to love about the music coming from Portland. Another of the artists featured in Balto is Daniel's cousin, Andrew Sheron, who himself operates under the name of "Everyman of Parts". I'll be telling you more about his album 'Travelling Time' in the not too distant future. If you want to know more about Balto then you can click this link http://baltoamerica.com .