Educating Omand - Year 3: Balmorhea

Torn grey fabric with gold metal shining through the tear

In an effort to further her musical education, Susan Omand has been set "homework" of listening to albums released after the 1980s that she has missed out on. This week she sets her sights on Constellations...

Find the full list of albums for Educating Omand: Year 3 here

It is not often that I am rendered utterly speechless [not EVER! – Ed] but I was with this album. There are no words [ironic for an instrumental album - Ed] to adequately express how much I love this.

I thought I had listened to Balmorhea before for Educating Omand but it turns out that I hadn’t heard anything much, just the odd track that Mr Ames mentions in a few of his playlist articles on here, so I hadn’t picked up on the sheer musical genius that is at work here until I listened to the whole album of Constellations in one sitting. I will try and explain.

I was going to write a “first listen” track by track review on it as I often try to do with Educating Omand albums but I just don’t have enough superlatives in my vocabulary to describe its beauty. From the first arrhythmically clacking piano notes in To The Order of Night until the fade of the strings in Palestrina I sat, motionless, open-mouthed at the utter artistry that flowed from the speakers. It’s like nothing I have ever heard before. The contrapuntal ticking and thumping of the percussion, the melancholy of the piano, the starkness of the guitars, the richness of the strings all build together to make an incredibly intricate melange of … not noise, because it’s so much more than that, atonality may be probably a better word but that’s not right either because it’s not grating or difficult to listen to. Instead it’s intriguing, enticing, it needs full attention; it drew me in with sensory overload like wandering through a musical marketplace, each closely packed square of stalls sharing different sights and sounds, tastes and smells, all overlapping and overwhelming into an irresistible single auditory encounter. But this is not a tapestry blanket of sound where I could relax and let it all just wash over my senses. No, this stridently demanded that I follow individual threads, listening to how they knot and fray, weave and loose with other threads. The bigger picture here is a masterpiece, obviously, but the detail is what holds my rapt attention, from the apprehensive fret noises and rich, murky undertones of Herons to the astounding choral additions of Winter Circle where the voice is used as a part of the orchestra that make the music soar skyward. Then you get the stunning rippling piano arpeggios in Steerage and the Lamp that contrast with the glorious strings, both darkly bowed and sparklingly plucked, and you are plummeted to the depths of an icy fast-flowing river. Or the astounding combination of organ and percussion in On the Weight of Night that left me in floods of tears having looked into the face of God [a tad over-dramatic maybe? – Ed]. But the sheer beauty of this album is that every listening experience, at least for me, has been different with every press of the play button. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve listened to this whole album in the past week, sometimes three or four times on repeat in a single sitting, and it just gets better and better, there is more and more to discover, more and more strands to follow and deeper and deeper chasms to get lost in.

I know for a fact that this garbled stream of consciousness that I’m calling an article has done nowhere near enough justice to this album. So, I’ve added in the title track Constellations below to give you a taster for yourself. But it is just a taster, you HAVE to listen to the whole album because the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts just as much as the parts make up so much more than just the whole. I know what I mean. [No, you don’t – Ed].

Fair enough, I’m not making any sense, I realise, so I’ll shut up now and just let you listen and see how it connects for you. I think I’m a whole lot more than just educated this time, Mr Ames, this album has completely rewired my brain.

Image - Amazon

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