Fresh Stream

Balms — s/t


It’s almost summer and time to hang out on the beach. Let Balms be your soundtrack. It’s got enough poppy energy for rocking out on the sand, enough noise to be heard above the ocean, and a touch of dreamy melancholy for when you’re resting on your blanket staring at the waves.

Balms is the debut album from the San Francisco trio Balms. The overwhelming static-y sound and cloudy instrumentals of shoegaze are evident throughout, while the clear vocals and reverberated lead riffs give the album a dreamy-surfy feel.

Listening to Balms is a little like switching constantly between coke and Xanax.  The drums move each song swiftly along, with the cymbals a feather-light presence— until they’re not. On “Golden Hair,” those faint taps create a lulled atmosphere and then suddenly—bang!—you’re off in a burst of interweaving riffs and swelling vocals. The guitar playing is mellow and intricate over the energetic drums.

The contrast of static whir and crisp, clean pop colors is evident on other tracks. On “Head in a Safe,” a bass-y, warbling guitar riff is accented by soft, echoing notes that drop upon the song like rain. On “Aboriginal,” shimmering chords well up between hasty, falling notes. Shoegaze shows its face mostly in the bass, a saturated distortion fuzzing over everything.

Vocals typically aren’t the star of this kind of music, which treats voices like just another instrument. Here on Balms though, the lead singer’s sweet, delicate vocals are audible above the music, moving along smoothly with each song. The lyrics can be ominous (“I’m outside, don’t be scared/Right outside, golden hair”) and the line between life lived and life imagined constantly shifts (“And I found you in a dream I had/But it made no sense to have a face in it”).

Shoegazing got its name from the heavy use of effects pedals, but also because the bands mostly stood there during concerts, like they were staring at their feet. I don’t know what Balms was doing while they recorded this album. But it makes me want to get up and dance and then maybe lie back down and dream. But it does not make me want to gaze at my shoes. Because who wears shoes on the beach?

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