Alaska in Winter

Dance Party in the Balkans

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An electronic indie dream pop album fusing classical folk melodies with field recordings and electronic backgrounds, Dance Party in the Balkans is essentially a one-man project of Brandon Bethancourt. The story goes like this -- the 22-year-old Bethancourt leaves his native New Mexico for Alaska with a laptop and a Dostoyevsky novel, recording a few pieces in the sublime surroundings of nowhere. The pieces are then mixed with trumpet, viola, and vocals upon his return back home. The inspiration seems beatific, with even the song titles living up to the lingering themes of the wild ("Twenty Four Hours in Lake of Ice," "Dance Party in the Balkans"), nature ("Staring at the Sun," "Rain on Every Weekend"), isolation ("The Homeless and the Hummingbirds," "The Beautiful Burial Flowers We Will Never See"), and Dostoyevsky ("Don't Read Dostoyevsky"). This 13-track offering provides an eclectic mix of Eastern European folk music, organic instrumentation, and a modern-day trip-hop aesthetic close to luminaries of this genre like Beirut and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, even employing members of these bands on this sophomore release. "Lovely Lovely Love" and "Your Red Dress" feature progressive folk-styled lo-fi, and chamber pop close to Sufjan Stevens and Nick Castro. While "Balkan Lowrider Anthem" and "Horsey Horse" suggest later Flaming Lips, Sigur Rós, and the Album Leaf, incorporating a steady mix of neo-psychedelia and dream pop, songs like "Harmonijak" and the album highlight, the closing track "Close Your Eyes," are reminiscent of the new wave ambient trip-hop of Air, Zero 7, and Röyksopp. Dance Party in the Balkans is a very good first attempt by Brandon Bethancourt, especially for fans of Eastern European folk and guitar-less indie pop, but for other listeners as well. Its fragile, laid-back, and downbeat music is hauntingly beautiful, the perfect soundtrack for solitary late-night listening.

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