As I sat down to listen to Balms’ first full length album, Mirror, my thoughts turned to the importance of constantly stretching our tastes and of experimentation in the experience of music. We all go through many phases of listening, and, even if we are more comfortable within certain genres, it does not mean that there is no joy to found outside of those boundaries. If we all just stayed in our lanes, we would be hard pressed to expand our views and find new life within music. This is all to say that drum and guitar focused music is not my usual wheelhouse as a listener. But this does not mean that I did not enjoy myself with Mirror.
Actually, it was close to the opposite! This is, by no means, a perfect record but there are some serious high points. I certainly had my doubts as I made my way through the first few tracks—with the heavy emphasis on drums, it can be easy to feel as if the lyrics are drowned out. I would be hard pressed to go into much detail on the first tracks other than to say that there is obvious skill on display. But to me, that is not what music is about. It should evoke something, and I wasn’t feeling it.
On repeat listens, it is clear that Mirror improves as the album progresses. You can almost feel them stretching themselves out of their own comfort zone. Those beginning tracks feel very comfortable, but not so as the album moves forward. On two particular tracks, “Mirror” and “Dark Rider”, Balms is immediately evocative of Pink Floyd. The dreamy, languid nature of these songs lets us feel as if we are carried away for the length of a track. This is all the more impressive as this is no full orchestra, rather just three members of a band working together as an almost perfectly cohesive unit. “Mirror” is the first single off of the album, and it is likely the most complete and complex track off of Mirror. Given its extensive length (something that can be said about many tracks on the album) and its changing tones, it could easily be put on repeat many times over and not feel as if you had heard it before.
Balms’ tendency to stretch sonic styles is not only apparent between tracks but also within them. In particular, “Hands Out” opens with relatively simple guitar chords combined with focused drumming which would feel at home with 90’s rock and grunge such as Alice in Chains or Soundgarden. The half-screamed lyrics help complete this image. However, as the song hits about its halfway point, the guitar increased in complexity and the drums hit harder to combine into a cacophony of sound that somehow blends perfectly. The sound of this track could not differ more greatly from that dreamy quality of the majority of Mirror.
“Candle” follows immediately after, sounding every inch like a 2000’s era modern rock radio hit. The pulsing guitar at the open of the track, along with the rhythmic lyrics immediately sets a groove that you can easily nod your head along with. As the song heats up, the lyrics turn to almost a screech and the drums once again take over. This track swaps back and forth between these two styles. These stylistic choices come together to form a standout track that leads the listener to expect the unexpected. In a way, this track is perfectly indicative of Mirror as a whole. It is an album that demands your attention, even in its lesser moments.
In some ways, Balms’ Mirror is a lesson in patience. When faced with an album like this, that patience is rewarded as the minutes slip away. It is easy to remain impatient and skip from track to track, waiting to be grabbed by an individual song or moment. But because of the extended nature of each track, if you stick with Mirror, the reward is a well-crafted album, which is all the more impressive given that this is their first full length effort.