Way back in September, Daniel Sheron of Balto wrote to announce the arrival of Monuments, the band’s follow-up to 2011’s October’s Road. In his letters, Daniel stressed that the album was a new direction for Balto – a step forward for him and the band. Given how much I loved October’s Road, this was certainly intriguing. In one e-mail, he wrote:
This release is a major step forward for us – The songs were written in the period following my move to Portland, and tend to step further into the surreal than October’s Road did – they’re more thought out, really just better, I think. We painstakingly arranged the songs together as a band and pulled in Jeremy Backofen (Felice Brothers, Gregory and the Hawk, Mice Parade, Simone Felice, etc) to produce it. The results were a surprise for all of us, but we’re all delighted with what happened – let me know what you think!
I’m going to set aside the claim of betterness, which is too hard for me to assess, and say this: Every inch of this album is as, or more, exciting than the first time I heard October’s Road. The tracks on Monuments are powerful, enveloping the listener with their driving percussion and soaring harmonies. This is the sound of a band that has been honed by months on the road. More than that, it is the sound of a band writing songs with a great sense of collective purpose – challenging themselves to throw off the brakes and just roll full-speed down the mountain. On songs like “Monuments” and “Airplanes” there are nuanced, dynamic performances that speak of the band’s earnestness, and the results are deeply affecting, convincing me that Balto is a band we’ll be hearing for years to come.
On their collective desire to make these songs, Daniel writes:
This series of new songs picks up the thematic and sonic shards left by our first record, October’s Road – we blew our sound wide open, again taking up our familiar acoustic instruments, but letting our collective imagination run wild with the possibilities of the place and time we found ourselves in. Monuments was tracked live in an old repurposed church near Woodstock, NY over three days in June – we hung big drums from the ceilings, we filled wooden rafters with wavering organs, we stayed awake day and night and half of us got salmonella, all to make the best record we could.
So, it’s love in the time of salmonella, then.
In all seriousness, this album is both beautiful and powerful. It’s the sort of transformation that is simultaneously amazing and natural. With Monuments, Balto is more than a band of great potential, presenting instead a true musical force to be reckoned with. I, for one, can’t wait to see what comes next. For now, let’s have a listen to Monuments: