Ever since first hearing the beginning of Balam Acab’s “See Birds (Moon)” back in mid-2010, music lovers have been anticipating the (at the time) nineteen-year-old electronic producer’s first releases. His first release, See Birds EP, marked the beginning of an impressive journey for both himself and for his label, Tri Angle Records, for whom it was also the first release. His See Birds EP was dark and moody with fragmented vocals and strong beats, and it asily won over many critics.
Now it’s 2011, Koone is twenty, and his debut full-length album has just been released. Compared to See Birds, the music is softer, lighter, and more organic. Instead of repeating single vocal lines throughout the course of the song, Koone opted instead to lift entire vocal parts out of Creative Commons-licensed songs. Heavy, distorted beats are replaced by chopped up samples of dripping water. Songs on Wander/Wonder frequently start with minute-long introductions that are so quiet you may think there’s a problem with your music device at first, as opposed to tracks on See Birds that keep the same mood for the entire duration of the song. Another significance difference in the perceived maturity of Wander/Wonder is the decision to mix in stereo instead of the previously-used mono.
Make no mistake, though; Wander/Wonder is characteristically Balam Acab. Instrumental samples are set behind sounds of water, heavy bass lines, and lighter beats. Songs drag on at abnormally slow tempos, as if allowing time to listen closely to each layer before the next beat hits. Vocal lines are pitch-shifted and slowed down then hidden in the mix until they no longer sound human-produced. Following suit from his previous EP, vocals are used simply for melody; none of the lyrics are discernible, but they aren’t important in the context of the songs anyway.
The entire album is computer-generated. During production, Koone sat in his parents’ bedroom and spent hours looking for field recordings, vocal lines, and instruments to sample on websites like ccMixter. Despite this, the album is beautiful and organic and with an underlying tone of longing. Feelings of heartache are amplified during the rare occasion you can make out lyrics, like in “Motion” when the line “do you still love me?” is repeated.
This is not the type of album that produces consumer-friendly hits, although tracks like “Now Time” and “Oh, Why” will easily fit into a variety of radio shows. Instead, Wander/Wonder is an art piece that will reward those that listen intently. Headphones or a good speaker system are a must. New sounds and layers are noticed upon repeated listens. For many critics, Wander/Wonder will be one of the best albums of 2011. Don’t let the hype distract you from listening because you’ll be missing out on some of the most beautiful music that’s been released this year.