New Music: Friday Roll Out! With Jr. Slayer, Balms

It’s another Friday and here we are. Whether it’s work or life, I think the consensus is disappointment for the most part. That’s the feeling I seem to get from others, and this is why I attempt to avoid speaking directly to anyone regarding their political views and leave the commentary to a minimum. It’s just so divisive. There’s so much anger and hate spewing all over, and I’ve even heard it at the elementary school level. Parents are obviously continuing to feed their kids with false narratives and half-truths. I think we all need to decompress.

This is the debut by San Francisco’s Balms and of course, I walk into this one with hesitation, not because it’s the band’s first album but because of the baggage it carries along with it. With tags like “dream pop” and “shoegaze,” the band is easily painted into a corner. That is unless there’s something quite distinguishable for the act. For Mirrors there are some highs and lows, but of course I’m sure everyone wants to know which one takes precedence here.

Balms begins with feedback on the opening “Nothing In” before being hit with a wall of guitar based in repetition without being repetitious. They hit their stride with a singular melody that’s doesn’t stray into any uncharted territory. It’s a wave pushing up against the shore on a chilly morning.  “Bones” however hits a groove that’s hypnotic, as the band extracts an exorbitant amount of guitar washes to guarantee an enjoyable moment here. Vocals aren’t muddled & indecipherable like so many others lost artists have created which is an added bonus. While listening to “Dark Rider,” there’s a hint of explosiveness but it’s restrained. You get the idea the band wants to rock out but never cuts loose. This is where it’s problematic. While the song itself is good, you get the sense the band holds back in fear of abandon. Sometimes letting it all free is what we all need. Complacency shouldn’t be a factor.

On the other hand, control is welcomed on “Plane.” Rhythmically driven with catchy melodies, everyone is sure to coo along here. The same could be said with “I Feel Fine,” as the trio extends itself beyond four walls, lifting itself above a crowded playing field. Guitars aren’t overwhelming, allowing the rhythm section to propel the track itself. On the title track is where the band challenges itself rallying around a melody and extorting every single nuance out of it.

Ok, maybe I was a bit premature about Balms’ Mirrors having lows, and while I wish they would challenge themselves a bit more, I think they’re moving in the right direction.

So now we have Jr. Slayer, the project created by Cody Votolato (Blood Brothers, Head Wound City) and it’s something completely different from what you might think it is. With his new You Found Me, the approach he has taken, is a road less traveled where songs are left to roam through tape hiss, recorded in his bedroom. When done poorly, the issues run rampant through recordings, but when it’s done right, an artist is able to capitalize on it. Votolato should reap the benefits here.

There’s more than just a hiss, as the opening “I’ll Never Leave U” cracks much like a record on his parents old record player. There’s an added charm here, not because of the analog feel but because the simple piano notes, haunting background hum, drums and guitar are perfectly melded together. Al that with Votolato’s beautifully layered vocals shimmer with wondrous melodies. The acoustic energy has an amazing feel on “There Is Nothing Else Around Me” while “Half Lyfe,” takes simplicity up a few levels with a mechanical drum pattern that eventually changes its dynamic almost half way though, as Votolato strums and sings along.

With Jr. Slayer, Votolato experiments with limitations but his songs aren’t limiting. “Nothing And Nowhere To Hide” is a beautiful pop opus, “This Is Alone” haunts in sheer melancholy, and “How Could Love B So Cruel?” is full of raw emotion easily conveyed through his music. You Found Me is the recording I’m glad I found, it’s an amazing piece of work.