Balthazar Thin Walls on LP
The world is growing ever smaller. There are less places to hide and less space to think. Nothing is private. It’s a notion that Belgian quintet Balthazar
felt keenly as they traversed the world touring their 2012 album Rats
. It was an intense period where they clocked up the sort of hard road mileage that can make or break a band but Balthazar’s two songwriters, Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, emerged emboldened. As Jinte explains, “we know each other’s darkest secrets now. We grew together. You live together as each other’s brother and sister. We actually discovered we really like each other.”
Lives lived in each other’s pockets has left its mark on Thin Walls, the stunning new album from the five-piece who are completed by Patricia Vanneste, Simon Casier and Michiel Balcaen. “Thin Walls is all about touring and never having any privacy,” says Jinte. The songs were written in a hazy hyperactive state between shows. Balthazar’s previous two albums, 2010’s Applause and the calculated, searing alt-rock of Rats, were created in a slow, considered manner back home. This time round, the band had to fit in writing sessions whenever they had a spare day off.
The result is the band’s most instinctive and quietly feral record yet. It is, says Jinte, a product of the surroundings in which it was made, “less intimate” and all the better for it. If their first two albums came from the head, this one is straight from the gut. As well as the title being a nod to the prying eyes of the modern age, it’s also a literal description of how many of these songs were born: Jinte and Maarten had rented rooms in an old monastery next door to each other and the thin walls between the rooms meant they could hear every idea the other was working on.
The dynamic between the two frontmen is key to Balthazar’s magnetic pull. The pair met busking in the town square as teens but over the course of two albums they have honed an intricate songwriting partnership that hits paydirt on the new album. After self-producing Applause and Rats, this time the band traveled to the UK to work with Blur, Depeche Mode and Elbow producer Ben Hillier and Jason Cox (Gorillaz, Massive Attack) at Yellow Fish Studios in Lewes. The resultant record is a career-best: a grizzly indie-rock album full of nocturnal grooves and mesmeric melodies. Jinte and Maarten’s lyrical themes always seem to land on the same page and these are songs of anxiety and hope and love and fear.
The album opens with the filmic glide of "Decency," a track about “being in a band” and one that sets the eerie, captivating tone of the whole record. "Then What" is a joyously ragged rocker about being so desperately in love that you realize your happiness depends on someone else. The fuzzy glam stomp of "Nightclub" explores the poetic, bohemian beauty of being drunk and trying to impress girls and the melancholic croon of "Dirty Love" is about the inevitable doom of falling in love on tour. Themes interlock and weave in and out of each other: the soulful, solemn "Bunker" is about a girl who’s moved away, the woozy "Wait Any Longer" is about moving town yourself. The subjects of doubt and love are returned to in "Last Call," "I Looked For You" and "So Easy," whilst the orchestral blast of final song "True Love" is a suitably bittersweet sign-off.
Thin Walls is a beguiling snapshot of life in your mid-twenties, an album that puts Balthazar on the cusp of a big breakthrough. There is a slow burning beauty to their songs. These stirring vignettes will take the five-piece to bold new places.