With the release of Balthazar’s second album, Rats, we find the band in a position in which they accompany the likes of Beirut and Fleet Foxes on tour—but can they match their headlining mentors? Balthazar; the Belgian five-piece, have not totally done away with the catchy bass lines and carefree attitude that came with their debut album Applause, with Rats they have made a sound with a certain maturity about it. They have managed to produce a beautiful and delicate sounding record that still has an element of cool.
Rats is an album that that will not single anybody out. It will appease the people who have their ear to the ground looking for the next vibration to get excited about, to the people who look no further than there digital radio to find the latest sounds to tell their mates. However, the album will only appease, it is not going to be a record that transfixes a listener, determining their mood for the next couple of hours. In fact, by that time it may well be forgotten. This may seem a little over critical on what is a good record by a band that has the potential to do exceptional things, but Rats is being criticised with the greatest respect for the band’s craft. The only real criticism, of course, being that the sound gives us nothing new. However, enough of the tough love and on to what is a very enjoyable listen and an album that, actually, gets better with every listen.
Balthazar takes the listener on a 40 minute sombre, bohemian journey that washes over you with effortless ease. The opening three tracks are seamless; the album opens with ‘The Oldest of Sisters’ with its jazz undertones going into ‘Sinking Ship’ and ‘Later’ which has an up-tempo rhythm to which you don’t know whether too dance or self loathe but is probably the highlight of the album.
Although arguably the best three tracks lead off the album the rest is by no means bad, Balthazar takes us by the hand on a leisurely jaunt full of tales of romance, heartache and untold melancholy. The album finishes with ‘Sides’, a beautifully painful song that wouldn’t sound out of place on Kid A. Rats is an album in which you don’t want to end, but with it getting better each time you listen you probably won’t let it.
Rats is not going to be an album that sets the Anglo shores on fire but there is certainly enough there to prick up a few ears and make people want to find out more. Unfortunately, there is just something missing, something that will take this album from being a good album to being a great album. In all of the songs, I found myself waiting for that something special to happen, waiting for that hair raising chorus to kick in. It ended up being an album that just left me satisfied instead of wowed and, mainly, it just left me waiting.
In the two years since Applause, the way Balthazar has matured to produce such a piece of work as Rats with its effortless beauty can only mean positive things for what could be a long career. They may have to go the long way round, but if Balthazar comes to the UK and produces a live show that leaves the audience spellbound then this band will have the potential to do something special. With them, we might all enjoy the scenic route.
By James Clifford.