Review Summary: That's your cue.
They refer to themselves as an alternative pop band, but that’s a little too vague for anyone to correctly categorize, or at least imagine, what Balthazar might sound like apart from listening to this album. Forming in the latter part of 2004, this Belgian quintet have made a little career of releasing small bits of their musical product, garnering small-town nominations for their excellence, and putting emphasis on their touring lives rather than a proper first full-length. Balthazar's relatively small number of fans seems tense and anxious for a little more to grasp their minds around and associate the band with. Well, here you are, guys: Applause
ensues and that small number of followers is about to get bigger.
hits me as a personal album, being reasonably accessible, touching on, well, pop
subjects, but voicing them in a unique way that’s easy to identify with; it’s like these guys are singing to me
, man, in a way Top 40 radio has never been able to. To start, bassist Simon Casier controls the direction of the band’s songs, while guitarist Jinte Deprez uniquely plays the second, sometimes inaudible fiddle. The bass lines keep it slow but steady throughout the album's playing time, and as such the band never quite surpass any mid-tempo speeds. This really works for Balthazar, though, as their strengths, most notably their flair for rhythmic beat, are fully exemplified on Applause
with its speed and grooving feel. A comparison to the Arctic Monkeys wouldn’t be too far off, actually, although fairly slower
, combining touches of The Streets, and maybe even the Gorillaz to keep things relatively odd, but fresh.
Abstract sounds can often enter in at any given moment in Baltahazar’s mix of bass grooves and 4-count drums – digital machine processing via “The Boatman” - which actually results in the band’s release of Belgian Pop feel strangely smart and sophisticated
- not so far off from what's felt when listening to critically acclaimed indie rock, if that makes sense. Balthazar makes use of violinist Patricia Vaneste on a few tracks – hit up “More Ways”, please - however, to say they are minimal in her inclusion would sadly be true, though perhaps the better for Applause
’s overall sound and goals as an album. The album’s tracks are primarily led by their groove first and foremost; any secondary nuances are, actually, secondary in nature. The interplay between lead vocalist Martin Devoldere and background accenting vocals is really key here, too. “I’ll Stay Here” fronts itself as a resilient, intelligent, and being full of vengeance
; Martin declares nonchalantly yet mournfully profound, ‘I can walk up the walls, but can’t make water out of wine
,’ while a combination of the band and singer repeat the sentiments for powerful vocal interplay.
The “pop” label is, admittedly, a fair fit in a few ways – hooks hit on each track, often varying in intensity – but don’t expect this to hit it big with any labels anytime soon. Much of Applause
is understated and underflowing
, requiring attention to grasp, though not so much as the other, more abstract forms of indie rock. And in relation, this does prescribe to an indie rock-like blueprint, as opposed to the band-donned alternative pop, both in feel and direction. The band’s work here sounds experienced, full of potential, and ready to make some Belgian hipsters squeal with glee: Applause
for Balthazar is well earned, gentlemen. Nice work.