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"Pitchfork 1"

Rivers Arms
[Western Vinyl; 2008]
Rating: 7.8

The 14 tracks on Rivers Arms, the second album from twenty-something Texas duo Balmorhea, sound much like the band's list of influences probably reads. For that matter, such a strong, select lexicon could be a subset of most 2007 bands making instrumental music with folk, classical, jazz, and 20th-century classical inspirations: There are the swells of Stravinsky, the mercurial keyboard majesty of Debussy, the triad-based romanticism of Arvo Pärt, the clangorous sensuality of Keith Jarrett, the electronics-meet-acoustics approach of Max Richter, and the beaming melodic flashes of the Takoma Records cartel (from John Fahey to George Winston, mind you).

If those names don't mean much, think of Balmorhea as a freshman-level seminar in making pretty music that works on multiple levels. Most everyone should make it through class and carry something away, while others may use it as an inlet into deeper lessons: On the surface, Balmorhea's music is gorgeous, dynamic, and emotive, a bit like Sigur Rós with an interest in understatement. Rivers Arms combines piano, acoustic and electric guitars, banjo, strings, and samples into short passes, so that nothing's too consuming or exhausting. Though it lasts just less than an hour, Rivers Arms cycles through motifs without wasting many seconds or losing interest.

A closer look, though, reveals accomplished mechanics that allow (perhaps old and familiar) influences to filter into something refreshing. Michael Muller and Rob Lowe (not the 90 Day Man/Singer/Lichen or the sex-tape teen idol/George Stephanopoulos stand-in) are Balmorhea, and they're assisted here by violinist Aisha Burns, cellist Erin Lance, and bassist Jacob Glenn-Levin. Rivers Arms charms so easily because Muller and Lowe separate and integrate so many styles and ideas in small spaces. Several songs based in ivories and bows ("Baleen Morning", "Barefoot Pilgrims") hint at the dramatic climaxes of fuck-all, quiet-loud Texas post-rock. Balmorhea, though, always tug the reins just right, insuring that any incandescence doesn't torch the more journeyman guitar tracks, like the Six Organs-shadowing "Greyish Tapering Ash" or the Album Leaf electronics of "Process". The pieces fit, and the colors blend.

Rivers Arms offers little in terms of technical or compositional innovation, but it does capitalize on a facet of instrumental music that's constantly suggested but rarely accomplished: Despite its often elegiac turns and always graceful maneuvers, the music here leaves itself open to individual interpretation. The songs certainly have their moods, and titles taken from seasons or places suggest inspirations and implications. But these songs never exist in a vacuum, and any dominant air always makes room for the counterpart that's just around the bend. Like "The Winter": All twinkling guitars, fleeting sheets of strings, and piano lines that drift downward in diagonal columns, it feels like the season it proclaims. But traces of hope flicker from twinkling guitars, lining the melancholy. The melody is handled meticulously, too, creating stillness and movement in the same space. "The Summer", which precedes "The Winter", opens with atonal cello sustains. Even though a duet of bucolic acoustic guitars eventually dances above those strings, the foreboding drones hover at the brink, threatening from a distance like a surprise Texas snow cloud.

Such is Balmorhea: Texas gets a rough (if deserved) rap for its extremes, from Plano football games and their cinematic scores to obstinate world leaders and their stubborn ideas. But Balmorhea flashes brilliance only to highlight a slow-burning constancy that's at the core of one of the year's early slow wonders.

-Grayson Currin, February 15, 2008 - pitchfork media

"Austin Chronicle Cover Story"

Beneath the bridge that divides Columbus, Texas, the Colorado River treads so slowly that the current appears to be moving in both directions. A slightly trodden path winds through the thicket, leading to an embankment where evergreen trees shade the waterway below. Butterflies flutter overhead, and a tattered barbed wire fence marks the point of no return.

It was here that William B. DeWees, a colonist and blacksmith from Kentucky and one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred, wrote Letters From an Early Settler of Texas to a Friend. Published in 1852, his correspondence not only provides a firsthand account of the Texas Revolution's infamous Runaway Scrape; it also offers a rare glimpse of life on the frontier, DeWees torn between his fascination with the idyllic nature of his surroundings and the innate danger it imposed:

"I have never witnessed a sight of the kind, which, in my opinion, was more beautiful than this. The color of it is far deeper and richer than any I have ever before seen. ... Yet we are in a country with which we are entirely unacquainted; no road, no compass, and at the point of starvation."

This excerpt is scrawled on the inside cover of Balmorhea's third LP, All Is Wild, All Is Silent (see "SXSW Records," March 20), setting the scene for the local sextet's take on colonial independence. Cinematic in breadth and temperament, the album charts an instrumental pilgrimage across the endless hills and valleys of Central Texas.

"This is exactly what I pictured in my head," offers multi-instrumentalist Rob Lowe as he surveys the lay of the land, "[DeWees] alone on a ledge, looking out over the horizon."

"Only now most of that wilderness has been pacified," adds guitarist Michael Muller, who founded the group – pronounced bal-more-ray – with Lowe three years ago.

All Is Wild is Balmorhea's bold declaration of sovereignty, a landmark exploration of historical fiction. There's splendor in the grass and blood in the water – romantic wonderment and mournful resignation – all told through intricate passages of piano, acoustic guitar, and strings, then embellished with percussive flourishes and wordless vocals.

"Most of his language was fairly basic, just detailing the different things he encountered," Lowe summarizes over lunch at Beckey's Cafe in downtown Columbus, mere blocks from DeWees' historical marker. "Then there were times when he would launch into this more poetic style that was on a completely different plane. There was this elevated liveliness to his writing where you could tell he was genuinely enamored with his surroundings. Those were the passages that really stuck with me.

"With All Is Wild, we were looking for that same sort of adventure. It's not trying to describe anything but those big-picture moments where you're affected by something larger. I think our music lends itself to that way of celebrating the grandeur in the mundane."

Balmorhea's appeal lies in its emotional malleability, the way the music seems to shift in mood and meaning depending on the circumstances in which it's heard. It feels as if there's something left open or unfinished, waiting to be completed by the listener. You get back as much as you put in.

That sentiment holds true beginning with the band's eponymous 2007 debut. Recorded at home as a duo, the autumnal collection's rough-sketch instrumentals pair field recordings with found sounds, most notably "In the Rowans," which couples Lowe's eloquent harmonic arpeggios on piano with the racing of an old typewriter. Evidenced by a reworking of "Baleen Morning," last year's graceful Rivers Arms found Balmorhea expanding its horizons with ambitious chamber-rock orchestration, thanks to a steady stream of live performances and the addition of upright bassist Travis Chapman, violinist Aisha Burns, and cellist Nicole Kern. The latter two played alongside Lowe in Alex Dupree's Trapdoor Band.

Though the band's lineup and instrumentation continue to change and evolve – Lymbyc Systym's Mike Bell and Bruce Blay of Denton's Sleep Whale alternately fill in on percussion duties – the music still builds off of the inextricable interplay between the group's co-founders. A former member of the Men's Chorus at the University of Texas, Lowe is a classically trained pianist whose spacious, dynamic phrasing recalls that of Arvo Pärt. The 24-year-old Midland native translates that same stylistic approach to guitar and banjo as well, occasionally in the same song. Five years his senior, Muller, who serves as the band's manager, has a minimalist's resolve and a knack for finding complementary melodies.

"We balance each other out," Muller nods.

More importantly, they match each other's prolific pacing. Having recently completed the soundtrack to short film "Guest Room," available on iTunes, Balmorhea is already looking toward the February release of its fourth LP in as many years, Constellations. The album is an exercise in restraint that scales back filmic flourishes in favor of a more subdued, melancholic atmosphere.

"We don't just want to just get bigger and louder while doing the same thing," Lowe reasons. "We work a lot with texture and structure, trying to expand our palette. I think it's important to be able to a step backwards in order to do something new. I'm already thinking about different directions I'd like to go and different sounds I'd like to explore after the record that isn't even out yet."

Thrusting Balmorhea into uncharted territory, All Is Wild, All Is Silent Remixes, a limited-edition double LP newly available through Western Vinyl, creates an alternate history for the band's fictional narrative. It's a rite of passage, placing the music in the hands and context of the group's contemporaries.

Eluvium drags opener "Settler" 20,000 leagues under the sea, slowing the song to a 17-minute ambient wash of looped strings, canyon-echo vocals, and flickering acoustic guitar. Dark-folk chanteuse Tiny Vipers, who contributed vocals to two songs on All Is Wild, converts "Harm and Boon" to a tonal drone, shadowing the approach favored by Seattle-based composer Rafael Anton Irisarri.

Exemplifying his Austin-based label's invested interest in ambient architecture, Western Vinyl owner Brian Sampson takes a turn at "Elegy," scrambling, reversing, and stretching fragments of the source material into a glistening mosaic of sound; the effect resembles that of a shattered mirror. The Fun Years' percussion-heavy treatment of "Coahuila" borders on post-rock, while Sweden's Library Tapes push only the kick drum to the forefront, heightening the impact of his choppy repetitions. From the electro-acoustic filtration of Poland's Jacaszek ("Night in the Draw") to Xela's closing static swell ("November 1, 1832"), all the collaborators carve their own paths.

"It's very flattering," says Muller. "I have a lot of respect for all the artists we asked. We let them choose the song they wanted to work on, then sent them all of the stem files to work with. There were no rules. It's interesting to see our music through their eyes. It gave us a bit of perspective."

What's surprising is the fluidity with which the entire remix project ebbs and flows together. Yet like the intermittent traffic breaking up the natural resonance of the Colorado River, it's a stark contrast to the subtle grace and patient perfectionism of Balmorhea.

Carrying acoustic guitars to the shore, Muller and Lowe illustrate that point with an instrumental revision of "Coahuila." With eyes closed and backs turned to the water, the two sway back and forth in place to the melody. Their guitars intertwine with relative ease – Lowe out front and Muller wading around him – mirroring the current that pushes and pulls against itself in serene harmony as the song gently fades away. In this moment, all is wild, all is silent.

All is well.

- Austin Powell
- Austin Chronicle

"Pitchfork 2"

All is Wild, All is Silent

"Settler"-- the multi-movement opener of Balmorhea's third album, All Is Wild, All Is Silent-- serves as much as a proclamation as it does a piece of music: A galloping piano line lifts high and wide, and strings push up from both sides. A razor-thin electric guitar and fleet drums add bulk from beneath just before the song's first half empties into silence, the piano notes scattering through the tape like fireworks across a dark sky. A finger-picked acoustic guitar returns, peaking from beneath the ashes before springing into big, open chords. This time, a larger, more emphatic ensemble joins, offering handclaps alongside a kickdrum and chanted harmonies around the rhythm. Balmorhea-- formerly so quiet and subtle, a duo plus guests-- suddenly feel like a large choir stomping and singing behind their minister's springtime revival.

For their first two albums, Austin's Balmorhea gingerly augmented basic but beautiful piano and acoustic guitar patterns with electronics, field recordings, and strings to create exquisite if polite instrumental music. Like the minimal wire mobiles of American artist Alexander Calder, the songs were as much about the shadow they cast-- the full effect of Calder's work depended on the light in the room or the color of the walls; Balmorhea's pliable sound bent to one's emotional state-- as they were about any specific confluence of notes. But out of the gate, "Settler" exclaims an expanded six-piece lineup and a less nebulous direction, offering the sort of resolution Balmorhea have long foregone. Like "Gobbledigook", the handclap-heavy pop gem that led Sigur Rós' Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust last year, "Settler" declares that its makers are capable of something other than slow-building brood.

That growth doesn't come without its pains, though. At its worst, All Is Wild recalls watching a once-charming child transition through a difficult puberty while one can only stand aside, wishing upon it a beautiful adulthood. See, Balmorhea have always made romantic music. For piano, think Philip Glass' Glassworks, not Charlemagne Palestine's Strumming Music; for guitar, less Takoma, more Windham Hill. But themes that formerly worked as suggestive romantic skeletons become melodramatic and maudlin to the point of distraction here. In full-band form, Balmorhea can sound terribly stiff, hidebound into odd angles by the parts they've built. "Harm & Boon", for example, smolders with piano and strings up front but suddenly springs into full-rock mode, a splintering electric guitar grinding across a simple beat. The guitar and the strings move in countering intervals, crisscrossing the rhythm in interlocking webs. The instruments don't move with grace or freedom, though, as much as they simply seem to be reading notes from a page. The movements become awkward tumbles and recoveries, unsuccessful attempts to create musical elasticity that releases and restores potential energy in gallops. The album is even sequenced to that non-effect: Tracks one, three, and five are all distended, jarring pieces with grand crescendos; the even-numbered tunes are like warm tiger balm, gentle numbers meant to massage the tension of their surroundings. Like the tracks themselves, the arches prove a tad mechanical.

Despite all this, All Is Wild suggests a bright future for Balmorhea, even if by way of an unfortunate present. Although the band's expanded beyond the spartan approach of its earlier works, the material maintains a blissfully elemental complexity, meaning that-- even if the lines twist and the crescendos stack-- Balmorhea's remains the sort of chamber rock music that can be explored in a backyard or in a living room by friends playing without plugs. At its best, it returns demanding classical grandeur to a comfortable folk base. What's more, many of the individual textures and themes here are brilliant, from the patient, walking banjo-and-guitar line that leads "Remembrance" to the strings slashing back through the inspiring build of "Coahuila". And the album's closing third-- three interconnected tunes that rise and slink with a patience that the album's start skips-- is perfect, steadily winding through radiant acoustic tones. The swells are surefooted, and the various movements seem designed for one another, not simply stapled together. In their own quiet way, these 14 finishing minutes recall Menomena's instrumental opus Under an Hour, which carefully united dozens of divergent themes into one broad, welcoming landscape. Those minutes alone are reason enough to put a lot of faith in Balmorhea's future

— Grayson Currin, June 5, 2009
- pitchfork media

"All Music Guide"

You follow a band you like -- they're not fantastic, but they're good at what they do -- and at some point you think you know what to expect. And then they drop a bomb. That's what Balmorhea did with All Is Wild, All Is Silent. Their previous effort, Rivers Arms, was a sweet and gentle acoustic post-rock affair, with piano, guitar, the occasional violin or bass line. We are still inside the post-rock ethos with All Is Wild, All Is Silent, but suddenly the group has grown wings and balls! And members too! The once-duet of Michael Muller and Rob Lowe is now a full-fledged sextet also featuring Aisha Burns, Travis Chapman, Nicole Kern, and Taylor Tehan (not sure who does what, but Burns was already guesting on violin on the previous album, and the ear doesn't strain hard to catch banjo, double bass, and percussion). If the lineup has gained size, so has the cinematic scope of the music: Rivers Arms was all about intimacy (skeletal tunes, simple arrangements), and even the occasional field recording hinted at small spaces (a backyard, a schoolyard), but this CD features expansive music evoking the Canadian Prairies, the American Midwest, or even the wild, rough-edged beauty of Sweden and Iceland (and, yes, comparisons to Sigur Rós are inevitable, welcome, and meant as a compliment). Right from the start, "Settler" sets the mood with a minor-key melody that reaches symphonic proportions and attains a great level of yearning once the rhythm section comes in. "Remembrance" has a strong Ennio Morricone flavor, while "Truth" starts like a string-led Sigur Rós piece -- however, Balmorhea's turns out to be more bucolic than that, and the group's brand of post-rock is devoid of noisy/textural electric guitar. Everything is acoustic and exquisitely arranged, the undisputed highlight of the album being the fortissimo reentry of the piano at the very end of "Truth," immediately switching to a quiet register as it segues into "November 1, 1832," a beautiful tune with wordless vocals performed by guest Jesy Fortino -- that particular passage will be giving you goosebumps for years to come. Simply put, you can't make instrumental music more beautiful than that. Highly recommended.
- Francois Couture - All Music Guide

"Mojo" - Mojo

"NPR Feature"

February 19, 2009 - Now a six-piece band, Austin's Balmorhea has come a long way from its days as a two-man outfit. Building upon both classical and post rock influences, Balmorhea's third album, All is Wild, All is Silent, shines with the addition of an upright bass and drums to accompany its emotive instrumental pieces.

Though vocals occasionally filter through the music, All is Wild, All is Silent contains no lyrics. Far from sounding incomplete or unimaginative, however, the music has such a strong narrative flow that the absence of lyrics is hardly a weakness. Many of the tracks on All is Wild, All is Silent contain natural storyline trajectories that would make German dramatist Gustav Freytag proud. "Remembrance," for instance, begins with softly plucked notes on the guitar and slowly incorporates the banjo, strings section, and drums until all the instruments energetically meet in a climax before breaking back down into the song's quiet resolution. From this natural narrative flow, Balmorhea proves that a cello and a banjo are just as capable of expressing ideas and emotions as a group of words on a page. - NPR


All Is Wild, All Is Silent might be one of this year's most eloquent and convinvcing neo-classical influenced records. The band's sound inevitably wins them comparisons to Rachel's, Clogs and other such string-laden ensembles. This remix album hands the tracklist over to an all-start line-up of artists operating both within and without the field of modern composition: The Fun Years. Jacaszek, Rafael Anton Irisarri, Helios, Bexar, Bexar, Machinefabriek, Library Tapes, Peter Broderick, Tiny Vipers and Xela are all on hand to contribute to this project, with Eluvium kicking the selection off via a seventeen minute dismantling of 'Settler', featuring a swirling ambient palette that escalates to the point where it starts to sound like an orchestra being pulverised by some philharmonic threshing device. From here on the Balmorhea sound is transformed in a variety of different ways, and from the post-digital reinterpretations of Machinefabriek and Helios to the threadbare minimalism of Tiny Vipers the spirit of the originals is preserved while their format is radically altered. Emphasising the malleability of the source material, Xela casts a gauze of noise and fizzy distortion to 'November 1, 1832', while Peter Broderick takes the same track and presents it as a rousing composition for strings, piano and choral vocals. A suitably excellent and diverse range of reinterpretations from a seriously impressive roster of contributors, this album is a great point of entry into Balmorhea's universe if you've yet to introduce yourself to this band's music. Highly recommended. - Boomkat

"Texas Music Magazine"

Album: All is Wild, All is Silent
Record Label: Western Vinyl
By: Doug Freeman

With last year’s exceptional River’s Arms, Balmorhea asserted itself as the best instrumental outfit birthed by Austin since Explosions in the Sky. But while Explosions fires behind guitar pyrotechnics, Balmorhea crests in more ambient, classically influenced waves. Helmed by pianist Rob Lowe and guitarist Michael Muller, the group’s third LP further expands behind strings and drums, while adding touches of chanted vocals on the opening “Settler.” The gentle movements lull with a mesmerizing beauty but cut with a driving forcefulness in “Harm and Boon.” Balmorhea never loses focus, though, deftly interweaving cinematic rhythms in accessible yet surprising patterns. “Elegy” and “Remembrance” are elegantly simple centerpieces to the surge of “Night in the Draw” and gorgeous hum of closer “November 1, 1832.”
- Texas Music Magazine

"Under The Radar"

What can a set of remixers do with the pastoral, acoustic splendor of Balmorhea? Well, they can stretch it out, for one: Eluvium takes the six-minute track "Settler," and pushes it out to a full 17 to kick the record off. And somehow they don't wear out their welcome. They envelop. If you find your way through that experience—including its beyond-subtle, five-minute fade out—you're in the right mood (a trance) for the record.

Balmorhea laid down some fertile ground, more so than you might have known. It makes a casual Balmorhea fan recognize all over again how good this band is. All Is Silent Remixes takes Balmorhea's stately, old world elegance and gives it an extraterrestrial makeover, an alien space wash, making it deeper, stranger, and mostly colder than the original.

Despite that coldness, there's obvious devotion in these recordings; without exception, the remixers found their way into these compositions and grew something weird and wonderful from the core. These remixers are like great actors—inhabiting these songs, not just imitating them. (Jacaszek stands out, and should go straight to work soundtracking psychological thrillers.) All is Silent was a daydream; this is astral projection. ( - Under The Radar


2010 - 'constellations' - western vinyl
2009 - 'all is wild, all is silent remixes' - western vinyl
2009 - 'all is wild, all is silent' - western vinyl.
2008 - 'rivers arms' - western vinyl.
2007 - 'balmorhea' - self released.

tracks available on myspace, lastfm, etc.
numerous radio airplay worldwide.



Austin's Balmorhea has always made beautiful music, but that pulchritude has often belied the underlying sensuality that makes their music so inviting. The band takes a giant leap forward, embracing that sensuality, on their bold and variegated new album All is Wild, All is Silent. Now a six piece, the band known for their understated simplicity and restraint has produced an album as complex as the workings of the lonely human heart.
The addition of drums, upright bass, and wordless vocals, helps the band evoke a timeless American narrative, conjuring the ghosts of our ancestors and tapping the veins of spirited adventurers who seek, discover and defend a kind of home and way of life entirely new. Like the letters of early Texas settler William B Dewees, that inspired the title All is Wild, All is Silent, the album swells with images of an untamed land and a uniquely American optimism and faith in the face of an unknown and savage Nature.

The opening track "Settler" beams with a rural down-home aesthetic that could equally inspire whisky drinking or silent prayer. "Harm and Boon" makes sharp turns from painfully vulnerable to soaring triumph without relying upon the formulaic structures overused by so many of today's instrumental groups. The album closes with the haunting and simple "November 1, 1832," sounding like a long-distance call to a home that you can never return to.

Balmorhea has headlined the US 4 times and EU twice sharing the stage with such acts as Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman, Tortoise, Stars of the Lid, Tiny Vipers, Eluvium, Grouper, etc


"Balmorhea flashes brilliance only to highlight a slow-burning constancy that's at the core of one of the year's early slow wonders."
– Pitchfork

"Balmorhea, an acoustic quartet from Austin, plays tender, bucolic instrumentals that waft and linger like the remnants of a summer afternoon."
– Time Out New York

"...each track plays out as a counselling session for the weary, dispensing affecting and emotionally rousing imagery like medication."
– Drowned In Sound

"There are certain healing qualities to Lowe and Muller’s impermeable compositions that are tightened by a heady mix of resplendent harmonics, keening piano and engaging string arrangements. A breath of fresh air."
– Angry Ape