Wednesday 25 April 2018


It’s the enchantment of synthetic regularity and modern-day decay, and what that decay leaves roiling and gushing behind in its wake - absence, void - that fills the soundscapes of Rotterdam’s very own Alberta Balsam. Both ‘Feels’ and ‘I Can’t Save You’ are pristine currents curdled by a sense of warped disintegration, the synth burbling like overused magnetic tape, the tinge of distortion like fabric frayed at the edge and sun-bleached; ‘I Can’t Save You’ feels cold, a light phaser hypnotic and thin on its fuzzing columns of clouded sound, but a constructivist arpeggio (late-20th century documentary footage of money being printed; cameras panning up half-built skyscrapers) keeps spirits up, along with a soulful sirensong of a vocal oscillating in and out of earshot.

In both tracks too, the beat is this set of building blocks - in ‘I Can’t Save You’ patterns of polyrhythms layered on each other mix themselves into a cocktail of organic clacks and synthetic ticks, a snappy clatter of lightly cudgeling percussion almost nudging the track into the realm of broken beat. The decidedly darker ‘Feels’ uses percussive sound to punctuate the track with glistening mystery, golden exotic clockwork on electrified fields of thick synth with liquid ghostly vocals running through, and crunching columns of synth and a stuttering sling of skittering beats.

These two morsels illustrate a deeply embedded duality that is always recognisable - that idea of dark and light, night and day. Though icy, robotic and eaten-at, ‘I Can’t Save You’ is Alberta Balsam’s bright-side, no matter how lonely the minimalism makes it seem; ‘Feels’ is its antithesis. And yet how its creator is recognisable in both, like sonic siblings they complement and oppose each other, each a distorted reflection of the other.

  • 🔔 You can stream and download 'Feels / I Can't Save You' from Bandcamp, if that is something you wish to do. This double single arrives after Alberta Balsam's debut track which dropped back in January, 'Ngelem'.
  • 🔔 ‘I Can’t Save You’ comes with a music video too. Shot in Rotterdam, it “follows a lost spaceman on a journey through a desolated city filled with alienating architecture,” Alberta Balsam herself tells us. Directed by Rick van de Dood, and with Boris Chomette starring as the Spaceman, it illustrates the angularity and singular feeling of detachment with which the track is imbued. You may watch the visual treatment below at your convenience.

  • 🔔 Unsure whether the moniker Alberta Balsam is based on the title of the Aphex Twin song, or whether it’s based on Alberto Balsam, the line of shampoos and other potions which is the song’s namesake. Maybe we’ll never know. On the other hand, her human name is Aniek de Rooij.

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