Balms swept through O’Brien’s Pub and left behind the echoes of clean, dark, note-bending atmospheric rock balanced with vague, impressionable lyricism.

2/26/19 – O’Brien’s Pub

As shown on their debut LP Mirror, San Francisco’s Balms have personalized their own brand of indie rock and shoegaze. When brought to a live stage, it carries a tumult of noise and gloom soaked in reverb. Balms members Jared Padovani (guitar, vocals), Michael Ascunsion (bass), and John Kolesnikow (drums) swept through O’Brien’s Pub on February 26 in support of Mirror, and left behind the echoes of clean, dark, note-bending atmospheric rock that they balanced with both smooth vocals and growls. However, don’t assume that Padovani’s growling is a sign that the band is out of control. By controlling their vocal style, sound volume, and lighting through their live music, Balms were able to curate a hypnotic, gothic phantasmagoria.

Mood lighting seemed important to the band, as they asked the lighting technician to dim the lights during the first four songs, “Grave,” “Plane,” “Candle,” and “No One is A Way Down.” The lights were turned back up to normal on the fifth and sixth songs, “The Room” and “Mirror.” There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to this, as all six songs are particularly moody in nature , both in sound and in lyricism, and would have benefited greatly from a dimmed stage for the whole set.

While “Grave” was the only song Balms played that’s not a track on Mirror, and definitely not as well produced on the recording, it blended right into Balms’ set. Taking notes from DIIV, “Grave” is a dreamy, shoegaze track that criticizes a lover’s last words. Similarly, “No One is A Way Down” features a slightly fuzzy yet melodic arpeggio and asks the question, “Tell me, am I strange or are you listening?” Existentialism is a common theme through Balms’ songs, as they vaguely question others’ perceptions. For example, they don’t explicitly tell you where “a way down” is, or what it means – it is merely the imaginary shadow of a space inside someone’s head.

 

 

The songs “Plane” and “The Room” follow this pattern of vague, yet impressionable lyricism as well. As the leading single of Mirror, “Plane” is the lovechild of Duster and No Age. Mixing driving art punk rhythms with a space rock twist, “Plane’s” sonic landscape provides a prime opportunity to showcase some punk-inspired vocal stylings. Growling the words, “All my life I wanted to know,” Padovani singing was genre-bending. Kicking up the overdrive on “The Room,” Padovani crooned “Don’t you want to stay … Stuck inside the room” over some noisy distortion. His voice has quite an impressive range of sounds, but sounds its best when its a bright and clear with a tiny tenor vibrato.

The sound that Balms has managed to create with three members is quite unique and distinctive; by using lighting, altering their singing style, and using different pedal effects, they’re able to set themselves apart from other shoegaze groups.

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