Beyond the borders of anchored alt-pop, out past the breakers of shoegaze, riding on a raft crudely constructed from the skeletons of post-grunge, Balms is paddling heavy out into the darkness of their debut album Mirror, navigating the live-to-tape sounds by the faint emissions of psychedelic constellations. The San Francisco based trio embarks on their journey in a heavy aura of analog infused fuzzy guitars blended and balanced into an almost psychedelic concoction.
Feeling somewhere between where student art film soundtrack meets deep cut early grunge basement tapes Balms shrugs off garage band vibes to poignantly, and successfully, drop a reflective piece that erodes preconceptions and trepidation. Parted out, Mirror skates dangerously close to a sound we’re all too familiar with, one that is executed in a rough manner, and one towing “filler” during music festivals. However, a sum of its parts, specifically credit to these musicians, Mirror defies each hesitant disregard as quickly as they may come up.
It would be unjust to refer to Balms’ debut as gloom pop, or some dark piece drowned in the shadows of rehashed sounds before them. Instead, this is a debut record that must be seen through the lens of its intended purpose. A purpose of self-reflection, to dig into the dark parts of one’s being and face it head on, while seeking healing, while growing.
Balms succeeds in a debut is in their apparently fearless pursuit of doing precisely what they set out to achieve. Mirror takes some bold chances that have seen many similar musicians quickly stumble; not here though. The record does not shy away from five to seven-minute tracks. At an eleven-track debut album, this seems a succeed-or-die decision.
It has paid off.
What begins as a vocally present shoegaze sound, Mirror focuses the energy and redirects it to evolve before our very ears. Shrouded in a veil of dark tones and scrounging for optimism, Balms has shaped a debut that alters the ideas of their sound. Not perfect, but one can argue it was never meant to be, this is a record that can be transposed with a live set you’d remember at an independent music festival, in all the right ways.
Greg is a co-founder and regular contributor of Nanobot Rock.