The Houston Music Blog section of the Free Press Houston.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Balaclavas

posted by Ramon Medina - LP4 @ 12:01 AM

Photograph by John Van

Balaclavas’ newest album shows a band that understands the narcotic that is atmosphere. “Inferno”, the title track, is drenched in a mist of swirling guitars, drones, and textures that ride alongside the incessant march of Charles Patranella’s drums and the pounding of the bass of Brian Harrison. Tyler Morris’ vocals cry out with a combination of fear and defiance as the band takes Dante Alighieri’s fevered dream opening of L’Inferno and spits their own blood back out. This is not a band that is content with merely signing a song but one that wants to push your idea of what a rock band should be on record, on stage, and as a creative endeavor.

When I first heard of Balaclavas the same adjective kept popping up – weird. Tyler’s quite familiar with that analysis, “People assume we’re being weird or dark for its own sake but, for us, it isn’t weird or dark – it’s jovial and satirical. Like in our album we poke fun at apocalyptic world views. Sure that may happen - but not right now. All that does is instill fear.”

Brian laughs, “We take those views and stick a thumb in that eye.”

Charles also can’t understand why people find them so odd, “When we write songs, nothing is brought in beforehand - we’ll improvise then take it and form a structure around it. People keep telling us we need to get inside this box…this world…but our music isn’t forced. When it is forced, it’s total shit and we drop it.”

For Brian improvisation is critical to any band; “There’s a point in every show where we don’t play it how we practiced. That’s how you know you have a connection with your band - when you can go off and they can follow.”

A band should be about taking risks says Charles, “When something doesn’t fuck up, you’ve fucked up. There are so many bands that are polished. Those bands are about the middle ground. I can’t stand the middle ground! The worst you can do is not get a reaction.”

“When I’m on stage,” explains Brian, “I don’t want to break the audience’s focus. I want there not to be apathy. It’s like a conversation – when you are talking someone has to listen.” Asked why not just stay home and listen to a record he replies, “Live music is immediate and of the moment but there is also a social aspect to it that’s important. People just don’t get out together aside from live shows and maybe sports.”

Tyler agrees that the social aspect is crucial, “I want the audience and the band to be whole. When I go to live shows I don’t see people communicating. What I see is a lot of nihilism. Fuck that! I want there to be a conversation! People have been consumed by culture to the point where they have nothing to say.”

Brian jumps in, “You can boil down American culture to two things: celebrity and over-consumption. Celebrity discounts normal life and over-consumption can’t last forever.” His point is that people shouldn’t be mindlessly consuming but making things, “You don’t have to be special to make a CD. It’s easy. If people understood how easy this is, there wouldn’t be this distance and when everyone produces media then it becomes democratic.” I suggest that with everyone making music there is a lot more clutter and that, to a large degree, digital downloads take away the fun of digging up an LP at the local record store but Brian chides me, “Don’t be overly nostalgic. Now, instead of kids trying to dig up albums, kids are making albums.”

Tyler elaborates on the value of creating, “I get into a trance. It’s like a shaman conjuring up sounds. It’s intellectually stimulating and entertainment is important - entertainment that lasts in your brain and that makes you think.”

“The thing is”, says Brian, “art and creativity is play but on a different level than a child - it’s adult play. It’s fun to communicate. With [corporate] mass media you are being talked down to and there is no communication; I sure don’t have anything in common with some executive in L.A., but at the grass roots level, you’re communicating with the audience and there is more sharing especially when it’s something handcrafted and DIY. The dollars are taken out and it’s all blood sweat and tears. ”

That is the thing that anyone who hears Balaclavas immediately understands- the making of music and how it is something that can be expressive, joyous, challenging, and inspiring. Balaclavas is a challenge to not approach music and life as it is given but to go out and find your own voice as they have or as Tyler puts it emphatically “Make something!”


Balaclavas will be re-releasing their extremely limited edition CDs (Inferno and the earlier eponymous Balaclavas) on vinyl on Phonographic Arts/Compound Records in 2008.

Balaclavas on Myspace (Link)

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