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Balmorhea unveil their second album for Deutsche Grammophon: 'Pendant World'

Balmorhea - Pendant World
©Donovan Smallwood

Haunting melodies and exquisite sound colours run through Balmorhea’s keenly awaited second album for Deutsche Grammophon. Pendant World retains the essential spirit of the Texas-based group’s music while transporting it to fresh creative territory, thanks to collaborations between founders Rob Lowe and Michael A. Muller and an exceptional line-up of guest artists. Above all, its thirteen tracks cross genre boundaries to explore heartfelt forms of expression. Pendant World is released digitally, on CD and on vinyl today, 16 June 2023.

Joining Lowe and Muller on the new album are regular collaborators violinist/vocalist Aisha Burns and cellist Clarice Jensen, and an equally distinguished line-up of guest artists, including experimental jazz saxophonist Sam Gendel, Joseph Shabason on tenor saxophone and flute, clarinetist Jonathan Sielaff, percussionist Jason Treuting and vocalists Steph Jenkins and Lisa Morgenstern. The music was recorded in ideal conditions in rural Vermont in collaboration with three-time Grammy-winning engineer and producer Jonathan Low (The National, Taylor Swift, Sufjan Stevens).  

“Mike and I were yearning to make music with others in a collaborative way after long months of lockdown,” recalls Rob Lowe. The excitement of playing with friends old and new is translated into the notable sense of energy in Pendant World, one balanced by tracks of greater introspection – there’s a sense of healing, but also of pushing on to explore new musical landscapes. As Muller notes, this dichotomy runs through not just the music but the titles and artwork as well.

The title Pendant World derives from a quotation Lowe discovered while reading Lyall Watson’s book Heaven’s Breath: A Natural History of the Wind. He was struck by a line from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, in which one of the principal characters contemplates death and compares it to being “imprison’d in the viewless winds, / And blown with restless violence round about / The pendant world”. Thoughts of a world suspended, its fate to be decided, took root in Lowe’s mind.

“It felt like the right image for the time we were composing most of the music,” he says. “It played into a distilled idea of the world, like an earring or precious jewel, being violently suspended. In some ways it captured this contrast of beauty and fear, which many people experienced during the pandemic; it also relates to themes that we’d explored in The Wind.” And, as Muller notes, Dylan Hausthor’s evocative black-and-white cover image also “juxtaposes those ideas of fear and beauty”.

This album deserves your time and attention not just because the music is sublime
but because it’s a work that speaks with sincerity and an open heart about life’s fragility
in a way that is both painful and beautiful” – Chris Kontos, editor-in-chief of Kennedy Magazine

Pendant World embraces multi-layered acoustic and electronic sounds, intensified by surging pulses of rhythmic energy and exquisite textural contrasts. While several of its tracks evoke the softly spoken minimalism of The Wind, others contain driving rhythms, complex instrumental textures and big, bold sonorities.

“We had a desire to create new sounds,” explains Lowe. He notes that the album’s short opening track, “Nonplussed”, includes found sounds that were manipulated and gradually slowed down to create a feeling of disorientation. “We’d never used this before since we started making music together as Balmorhea in 2006. It was new compositional territory for us.” Muller goes on: “Our main Balmorhea ‘voices’ are piano and open-tuned acoustic guitars with some string elements, to which we’ve added everything from samples and vinyl recordings to synthesizers, brass and flutes. It was about retaining our identity while pushing the envelope for ourselves creatively.”

“Oftentimes we find ourselves bridging different worlds, which is something I love
about our music” – Rob Lowe

The duo’s original compositions were further refined in the studio. “Sam Gendel helped us hit some of the marks we were hoping to achieve,” Lowe observes. “That energy of jazz, which really hits home, was very important to us. Neither Mike nor I are jazz players, so we needed a helping hand. Sam did a really good job with that.”

The musical ideas contained within Pendant World are often more concise, especially in their rhythmic construction, than those found in the music of The Wind. “That rhythmic muscle was something we wanted to reintroduce to our music after the last release,” comments Muller. “That took this album beyond genre walls and let it spread a little over the flood plain, as it were. Hopefully that will reach more ears and is more inclusive of a wider audience.”

Highlights include “Step Step Step”, graced by Lowe’s solo piano and Sam Gendel’s keening tenor saxophone; “New Conditions”, a meditative song built around a solo piano riff; “Range”, with its subtle blend of acoustic and electronic sounds; the tender “Held”; and “Desiderium”, with its clear echoes of Erik Satie’s piano music.

“On Pendant World,” sums up Chris Kontos, editor-in-chief of Athens-based Kennedy Magazine, “Balmorhea offer the opportunity to escape from a world perceived and translated with our senses to another one suspended between here and the infinite — an ethereal universe painted with memory and nostalgia as its canvas and colours … The Texan duo are not just composing music; they’re creating worlds.”

Balmorhea - Pendant World
Jun 16, 2023

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