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Balloon Astronomy - Balloon Astronomy CD (album) cover


Balloon Astronomy



3.93 | 48 ratings

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5 stars I'm sitting here on the sofa with raindrops drip dripping down the inside of my chimney, watching world events on the BBC news and listening to this album, and tapping my thoughts onto the screen on my lap. Who says men can't multi-task, eh? Anyway, for me, music has a lot to do with memories and associations, be they good or bad, and I'll be glad to see the back of 2012. But years from now, when I've grown old and indolent, when I'm a senile delinquent, and that surely won't be too long now, I wonder 'how will I remember this album?' I'll muse on that thought a few moments longer.

In passing I should say that Balloon Astronomy take their name from the observation of celestial objects from balloon-borne instruments and their debut album's cover-art, an aerostat floating skyward into dark plumes of cloud, manages to evoke an appropriate sense of vastness and power (and sadly we've all just witnessed the terrifying potential of nature). The artwork perhaps also gives a sense of following a great adventure rather than simply experiencing a temporary departure from day-to-day drudgery.

The music was forged through the Californian duo's high-school friendship and while it would be easy to rhyme off the names of any number UK prog artists from whom Balloon Astronomy seemingly borrow that isn't necessarily the dominant tradition here. American nature and culture of the recent past exert a profound influence with many related symbols of these things throughout the album. I guess that in a loose sense it's a conceptual work, and a work of real significance too, yet despite Balloon Astronomy's seemingly lofty vantage point it details aspects of an ordinary yet real life, rather than any magical realm. Twanging acoustic guitars and autoharp are right at home alongside Mellotron and Hammond effects, and in similar fashion this album would fit right in with any of the classics.

Without wishing to make it a big deal, it's my belief that American folk-rock isn't always welcomed as enthusiastically as the British variety. However, for someone weaned on a combination of UK prog and American singer-songwriters this album provides that killer combination. Balloon Astronomy infuse their brand of revivalist prog with elements of folk- rock and nostalgic lyrics that deal with a lost way of life and the passing of youth. The sound has a special purity, what I've come to think of as a refined campfire prog, and appropriately enough it seems in some respects to have a flavour of liberation.

And that brings me back to my initial thoughts about the way in which I'll think of this album in future. The album is itself very much an album of memories, no more so than the final three tracks that together form the elegiac 'Summer Suite.' This is a touching epic with the narrator recalling childhood memories of cowboy hats and silver stars. This will perhaps have particular meaning for men of a certain age like me, and ever since I can remember America has been a major influence on me, a place that is simultaneously familiar and exotic. But 'Summer Suite' is more than a child's dream vision; it's a song of life's transience and its sorrows, of familial love and loss. And listening to it I can almost hear the children's laughter and tears. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

Then there's the alt-country of 'Roots Run Deep' with lyrics that now seem prophetic when profiled against the recent devastating events across the pond: 'The dawn is coming closer / The storm will soon be over / The skies are clearing over you and me.' The lightly strummed charango fits the bill perfectly on this one but the guys also take pleasure in letting fly with synthesizer flurries in a bittersweet song of childhood journeys through the swamp cypresses on the bayou: 'There came a time when the breezes blew / Far away in the willow trees / And the bright Mississippi moon / Cast their shadows low and long / And we found that their roots ran deep / And our memories of home had changed / No more sorrow, no more pain / Just the sweetest evening rain.'

Recently there was an unusual story about an American bald eagle on the loose from a local bird of prey centre here in Central Scotland, what a sight that must have been, and the connection with 'Eagle' is pretty obvious. This track features percussive acoustic guitar reminiscent of the band America, and this goes hand-in-hand with soaring flute and Mellotron to transmit the sense of the bird in flight; Mellotron seems to come with the territory here but I don't go along with the saying that you can have too much of a good thing, besides which these guys do everything with such style.

Their take on modern materialism in 'Sigmoid Fletcher' features the kind of satirical humour customary of Genesis. This contrasts with the reverential light of 'By The Strange Water's Edge' where transitory piano and big lazy clarinet arise out of ersatz gamelan impressions, or the jittery paranoia of 'Even Odds' where pavilions of Mellotron do much to deepen and darken the mood.

Coming across albums like this is one of the happy hazards of ProgAchives; happy because I have discovered an obscure gem and a hazard when that gem is just one in a seemingly endless seam to be mined. In answer to my original question I think there are any number of things that I will associate with this album in years to come. It might be a big ask for it to be currently considered a trophy album but while balloons offer a cheap alternative to satellites in the field of astronomical observation, in the world of prog rock Balloon Astronomy are the real deal. These guys are going places and it'll be a blast to go along for the ride. Don't allow this band to end up nestled away in obscurity on the site.

seventhsojourn | 5/5 |


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