Balthazar - Rats

‘Rats’ pays no heed to current musical trends or approaches. It revels in luxurious, sweeping melodies and gentle grandeur.

Rating:

Belgium is far better known for its electronic output than it is darkly baroque chamber pop. Balthazar, the band formed by songwriters Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, provide an exception with their supremely classicist take on folk. ‘Rats’ sees a refined development of the melodic sound introduced on 2010 debut, ‘Applause’.

‘Rats’ pays no heed to current musical trends or approaches. It revels in luxurious, sweeping melodies and gentle grandeur. Serge Gainsbourg is cited as a major influence, and that, as well as the supremely-crafted class of Burt Bacharach, can be heard throughout.

Where Balthazar truly excel is in their ability to conjure up evocative imagery, each song here is like a minor dramatic play; ‘Sinking Ship’ with its key lyric, ‘words come out like rats leaving a sinking ship’, is engaging and full of character.

And while ‘Rats’ is rooted in a classic approach, there’s something curiously peculiar about how it’s delivered; see ‘The Man Who Owns The Place’, with its excellently understated line ‘I loved you for your madness but now it has grown out of proportion’. They’re also fond of whistling solos and strange instrumentation, which often makes for a beguiling listen.

Each song here is supremely crafted. The dynamics are pitched just right, and Devoldere’s insouciant Dylan-esque vocal drawl provides an important dash of attitude that prevents some of the more low-key moments from drifting by.

The songs become even more ornate as the album progresses: ‘Any Suggestion’ is the classy crescendo, beautifully balletic piano figures, plucked strings and a general symphonic air providing a stirring, sashaying climax. ‘Sides’, an indication of the dark heart beneath Balthazar’s work, is a closely intimate, hushed lament seeing Devoldere deliver the menacing warning, ‘do yourself a favour and run’.

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