How often do you take the time to appreciate nature? So many people, particularly those living in a major metropolitan area, simply don’t get the scenery of a placid lake or an open, verdant field on a regular basis. We see pavement and skyscrapers with people and vehicles everywhere. Take a long enough road trip and you’re bound to run into some lovely looking countryside along the way. Sometimes it’s nice to just stop for a minute and get a reminder of all this world has to offer beyond our jobs and friends and family. There’s great beauty in that wild, untamed landscape, and not only can that be mentally calming, but you might learn a thing or two as well. They have stores devoted to all of that nature stuff, from mini Zen gardens and dreamcatchers to rain sticks and white noise machines. Falling asleep to the sounds of the rainforest or the ocean can be soothing and provide a certain comfort to those that want it. Enter Balam Acab, otherwise known as 20-year-old Alec Koone, and his debut album “Wander/Wonder”. From its cover to the music contained within, nature, specifically water, is a theme that so dominates this record that it’s almost tough to call this music.
Of course with eight individual tracks, each with a distinctive melody along with vocals, “Wander/Wonder” is absolutely music, no matter how minimal the arrangements might be. Balam Acab has been slapped with the “witch house” label, a genre exercise that pushes darkness and electronic textures, along with slow tempos and modulated vocals. While the record pretty much falls within said genre, it fails to evoke the the dread and overall seediness required to satisfy the “witch” half. As it stands, you might as well say that Koone has crafted a record that is truly unique, one that in all its intimacy and exploration of silence pretty much qualifies to be in a genre all its own. With the distinctive water theme in tow, it’s rather easy to say that the album flows exceptionally well. You can hear the presence of water on every track, whether it’s lightly splashing, dripping or waves crashing onto the shore. The melodies are built around these environmental noises, so much so that the addition of some synths, electronic textures or beats comes across as largely organic. The vocals are completely undecipherable for the most part, either because they’re so buried beneath the melodies or have been messed with to the point where they sound completely alien. Opening track “Welcome” brings an operatic, almost Sigur Ros-like feel to the vocals, while something like “Apart” uses chipmunk voice as a companion to the R&B-like texture. You can nearly make out what’s being sung by a female voice on “Expect”, but the echo effect is so heavy it becomes tough to make sense of anything. That appears to be the point though, as we’re not listening to Balam Acab for brilliant lyrics but instead quietly invigorating sonic vignettes that trigger emotional responses.
Ultimately the worth of “Wander/Wonder” is almost entirely dependent on how easily you digest music that prizes serenity and beauty over traditional pop structures. This is not the sort of album you turn on in your car and enjoy on a road trip. This will likely scare off a room full of partying friends if you let it. If the sun is brightly in the sky and you’re ready to attack the day with your boundless energy, this album might dial that down a notch. Something like this is best enjoyed as a fully immersive experience. You don’t need to be high on drugs to have a transcendent moment with it, but it undoubtedly helps matters along. Just find a comfortable spot where you live, be it your bed or the couch or even the floor, strap on some headphones, and close your eyes. It’s worth warning that with the subdued nature of the album and the calming water theme, falling asleep while listening to “Wander/Wonder” is very easy to do. That can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. Insomniacs might find it a useful tool at bedtime, while others might struggle to make it through the entire thing without succumbing to its soothing charms. Whether you make it through three minutes or all 36, this glorious album is more than worth the time you give to it. It also establishes Koone as a fascinating new talent to keep an eye on for the near future.