Balthazar - Rats (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
BALTHAZAR – aka songwriters Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez – are an act you should get to know real soon. Rats, their debut album, is a cracking collection of songs that echo the values of everyone from Serge Gainsbourg and Leonard Cohen to Beck and Dangermouse.
Having met as teenage buskers, the two embarked on a whirlwind writing partnership that led to the quick formation of the band and initial acclaim in mainland Europe.
But they resisted the temptation to cash in on that wave of interest and took the best part of five years to record their debut album, experimenting with different genres and approaches until they were sure that they had the sound they were looking for.
The result is certainly distinct, even though it does garner favourable comparisons with the classic acts they cite as references. And admittedly, there are moments that are more of an acquired taste than others.
But in the main, this is an addictive listen. It kicks off with former single (and IndieLondon favourite) The Oldest of Sisters, which draws on their love of Gainsbourg by virtue of its smoky shuffle.
The slinky beats and subtle horn arrangements provide a great backdrop (combining both European and cinematic elements), while the vocals have a real hungdog, laidback quality befitting the effortlessly cool vibe the whole track provides.
But it’s just the start of a consistently intriguing, often achingly cool musical adventure.
Sinking Ship is just a really smooth follow-up, combining a laidback, hip-hop inflicted beat reminiscent of Beck with a slightly trippy vocal that recalls classic Jagger with hints of Cohen. It’s fantastic.
There’s more of a snappy vibe attached to Later, which owes more to Dangermouse-style concoctions (albeit with a melancholy sense of loneliness in the vocals), before some cracking horns enliven Joker’s Son, another favourite. The layering of the instrumentals is particularly effective here, underlining the meticulous attention Balthazar put into constructing the songs on the album.
Yet throughout the album, there are so many moments of quality. The Man Who Owns The Place has another laidback classic Stones vibe, complete with hedonistic qualities (“all the lives I have drawn and the women I’ve embraced”) that could almost serve as a chilled out counterpoint to Streetfighting Man, while Lion’s Mouth (Daniel) has traces of the folk rock of Mumford & Sons with something a little more atmospheric.
Another favourite, Do Not Claim Them Anymore, combines slick beats with chugging guitar riffs and a toe-tapping vibe that recalls Beck at this most infectious and cool. Vocally, too, it feels more happy-go-lucky, even declaring at one point that “there’s nothing wrong with this twisted fear”. Again, though, it’s imbued with dark qualities.
The intricate guitar licks of Listen Up, meanwhile, almost lend the track a flamenco quality that marks another interesting change of direction, while final track Sides drops one of the most deliciously lazy of beats around another hungdog vocal, some skewed strings (lending it a cinematic edge) and a cracker of a chorus to round things off.
Hence, while not every track entirely works (and we’re only talking about one or two here), this is an album that hits near-perfect levels of satisfaction by virtue of the gob-smackingly terrific songs that do! We defy you not to keep coming back to it and gaining more from each listen.
Download picks: The Oldest of Sisters, Sinking Ship, The Man Who Owns The Place, Do Not Claim Them Anymore, Listen Up, Sides