Balthazar have emerged from Belgium with a belter of a second album. They may sound obscure, but these guys have serious game. Rats is as smart, focused and sonically appealing as any indie-pop album you’re likely to hear this year. They set the tone with the smooth opener, ‘Oldest of Sisters’, featuring jazzy drums, group vocal harmonies and horns. Yes, you read that right; actual horns, an addition that surprisingly works.
‘Later’ rolls along with a propulsive bass line, while the band gets spooky on the more down-tempo ‘The Man Who Owns the Place’, revelling in gin-soaked imagery of love and madness, set against creeping atmospheric strings. If you can imagine Bon Iver with Phil Selway on the drums and Nick Cave singing, you’ll be somewhere on the right track.
Despite all the echoing acoustic guitars and cigarette-ravaged vocals, the songs do follow the accepted verse-chorus-verse pop song structure, aside from the ambitious instrumental section on ‘Any Suggestion’. This simple pop format allows the band freedom to experiment whilst still remaining in the accessible pop framework.
Indeed, one of the best things about this album is the band’s ability to have fun and experiment at the same time; ‘Do Not Claim Them Anymore’ talks about “twisted fear” over a bouncy beat. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and this makes listening to Rats an even more enjoyable experience.
In a Nutshell: Fun and richly textured, Balthazar deserve a bit more recognition.
By Edward Kearns