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(58:45, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. All Yours 7.13 2. Foe 9.02 3. Nowhere 4.59 4. Dissolve Unseen 4.54 5. Beat Me Up 9.28 6. Everything 6.57 7. It’s Still Today 17.32 LINEUP: Jos Commandeur – guitar; backing vocals Hans Baaij – vocals; synthesizers Michiel Van Horssen – drums Cyril Wijte – bass With: Robin Versteegh – guitar
Prolusion. Hailing from the town of Alkmaar in The Netherlands, BALLOON – who define their music as creating “a link between Pink Floyd and Rammstein” – are basically a quartet, augmented by guitarist Robin Versteegh (who does not take part in the compositional process). Additional musicians join the band for live performances. “Motivation” was originally self-released in 2007; then, in the summer of 2008, Balloon was signed by Musea, which re-released the album and made it available to a wider audience.
Analysis. As stated in the prolusion, Balloon’s main intent seems that of bridging the gap between the psychedelia-tinged progressive rock of the Seventies and harder-edged, more modern forms of music such as heavy metal. To be perfectly honest, while the psychedelic element comes across quite clearly throughout “Motivation”, any influences derived from the likes of Rammstein are definitely thin on the ground. One single influence, however, looms big over the album – that of Porcupine Tree, one of a restricted group of modern acts that have left a more or less strong mark on many up-and-coming outfits. The Porcupine Tree vibe becomes immediately evident right from the opening track of the album, All Yours – the alternation of harsh riffing and more laid-back, atmospheric parts, the keyboard washes, the very regular, almost mechanical drum pattern, even the style of Hans Baij’s vocals. This is a track that would not feel out of place on “In Absentia” or “Deadwing”. It is not by any means wrong to pay homage to one’s idols and sources of inspiration, as long as it is limited to one or two songs per album. Unfortunately, this cannot be said to be the case with Balloon, as each and every one of the seven tracks on this album brings the popular English band to mind, in some way or the other. While the spacey, majestic synths at the beginning of Foe are a throwback to Porcupine Tree’s psychedelic years, the way the song develops is clearly suggestive of their later, more metal-oriented output, with its sudden, heavy guitar slashes and occasional use of treated vocals. On the other hand, Nowhere is more in the vein of PT’s slower, balladic offerings, with echoes of indie/alternative pop bands such as The Verve or even REM; while the guitar-dominated Beat Me Up starts in a similar vein, with an almost mainstream, mellow-sounding section, then turns heavier and spacier, culminating with a lengthy, deep-toned solo. The album’s intended pi?ce de resistance, the 17-minute-plus It’s Still Today, is strategically placed at the end – but, instead of being its crowning glory, ends up sounding rather anticlimactic. For starters, it is too long, with an interminable, guitar-led coda that conveys the overall feel of an extended jam grown at random out of a subdued, somewhat boring first section. There are indeed some interesting moments on this track (like a delicate marimba solo without any other instruments), but on the whole it feels patchy and unstructured. This is one of the main problems on the album, in spite of the obvious enthusiasm and skill of the band members: too much of it sounds tentative, as if Balloon had run out of ideas during the compositional process, and needed something to fill the CD anyway. This rather harsh criticism notwithstanding, I have to say “Motivation” is not by any means an unpleasant listen – if you can get past its being so heavily derivative. Obviously, as with almost every debut album, a measure of rawness should be expected, as it is part and parcel of the process of maturation of any band or artist. While the individual members of Balloon have enough chops to sustain them in the future (though the rather monotonous drumming, one of the weakest points of the album, should be improved upon), they definitely have to find some clearer direction for their music, instead of leaning too heavily on influences from better-known acts.
Conclusion. Seen the undeniable similarities, “Motivation” should appeal to fans of Porcupine Tree and their particular brand of spacey, heavy prog. Those in search of some more original contribution to the vast (though mostly underground) progressive rock scene of today should probably look elsewhere. It is to be hoped that the undeniably talented Balloon will soon find their own individual voice, instead of trying to sound too much like someone else.
RB=Raffaella Berry: Agst 16, 2009
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