Balloon Astronomy – Balloon Astronomy (2012) – ***** out of *****
Review by Chris Dixon
Every once in a while, a debut album storms on to the scene like a force of nature, demanding the listener to take notice of its daring uniqueness and unrivaled chops. Balloon Astronomy is not that album. It arrives more like a summer afternoon, where the hustle of life is forgotten just for a while. The self-titled debut from San Diego’s Balloon Astronomy is a rare treasure that needs to be heard, but could easily get lost in the shuffle amid the short attention span of the Internet age.
Balloon Astronomy is a collaboration of long-time friends Jim Ledger (Vocals, bass, and guitars) and Glenn Little (Keyboards, flutes) with an impressive list of guests including Nick D’Virgilio, Jason Smith, Mike Keneally, and Max Werner. A wide variety of influences are on display, including mid-era Genesis, Jethro Tull, and Kevin Gilbert. It also brings to mind elements of Big Big Train, echolyn, and It Bites. Comparisons only begin to tell the story, though. What sets Balloon Astronomy apart is the sincerity, heart, and maturity present in the songwriting. The band describes the broad theme as Home: as a place; a state of mind; a community; a source of comfort, strength, pain, and motivation. Somehow, they manage to capture wistful reflection without cynical bitterness, and positivity without overwrought sentimentality.
The band’s surprising maturity is also present in the arrangements and the sublime instrumentation. The brief opener sets the tone with a gentle piano intro. Prog songs often rush for the next note, but “Crows in the Field” and a few other short instrumentals aren’t afraid to breathe, and use the space to great effect. “Even Odds” picks up the pace, and would be right at home on a 1990s Tony Banks album like Still or Strictly Inc. A decent track, but the album gets stronger as it wanders into the more subtle territory that follows. In fact, the best material comes from the second half, like the powerful “Eagle”, irresistibly quirky “Sigmoid Fletcher”, and “One Summer”, which captures the feel of the whole album in one song.
It is very difficult to pinpoint the elements that make Balloon Astronomy’s debut so brilliant. A review on Amazon describes it as “strength with gentleness”. Though melancholy at times, it is ultimately uplifting in a way that is too rare in progressive rock today. Like those lazy summer afternoons, Balloon Astronomy’s debut should be slowly savored.
The player above comes from the band’s Bandcamp page.
More info can be found at: http://balloonastronomy.com/