If the general field of instrumental rock dedicated to focused, tactile textures has long been both a productive and overworked one at the same time -- to experience the thrill of Slint and Mogwai at their best also calls to mind all the bands who want to be them in turn and don't quite make it -- then there's still room for a group that does its best and develops as it goes. Balmorhea's various albums have all had pleasant moments, but Constellations goes some way toward being one of the best if not the best the group has yet released -- if the touchstones remain noticeable there's enough going on to give the group its own enjoyable place. "Bowsprit," the album's second song, is the key in this regard: the absolutely precise and yet varied arrangement -- covering everything from a focused banjo part to the sudden deep wallop of the drums, the arcing of feedback off into the distance of the mix, and the steady acoustic guitar in one speaker -- consists of familiar elements and yet works as its own composition and calling card for the album and band. Elsewhere, there are elements of full-on drone on "Palestrina" -- if in a polite way, then still with the appeal of that approach -- and dramatic atmospherics via "Steerage and the Lamp," which really does feel like a lost boat voyage somewhere, quick piano parts over a low bass pulse feeling like the pace of a slow shanty before breaking into suddenly portentous keyboard. On balance, an enjoyable album that takes early promise and goes further with it.
by Ned Raggett