A personal perspective on Balatron's IÐAVÖLLUR LP
An intrigued insight into an early obtained release from YUKU.
This is Balatron's first LP if I understand it correctly, and as such, you can imagine that before this I have only really had exposure to Balatron through his releases on MethLab. From these, I gathered that Balaton is clearly inspired by the old 90s era of gangsta rap, elements of which return into this LP on numerous occasions. Rap/hip-hop for me is nowadays a very stale and boring genre which generally annoys me more than amuses me. As such, Balatron moves in risky territory with his music. Having said this, I believe that he has combined the influences with his more modern style very well. The music in the LP is raw, powerful and very much to my liking, whilst still containing a whiff of its original style and Balatron's Icelandic background.
The LP has 14 tracks so I’ve got a lot to write! I hate numbers in front of tracks on my playlist so I will review these in the order that they appear on there.
FORK NAGGERS (ft. Craze)
FORK NAGGERS, being the first in my playlist, starts the LP off for me on an interesting tone. This track is certainly a real beast. The bass is nice and heavy and I really like the beat having a subtle swing to it. The drums are well laid out and are nice and heavy, just the way I like it. There is also light play with melody on the bassline which isn't done very often nowadays. One thing I find quite funny is that the title of this track appears to be directly derived from the main vocal before the drop which in writing would perhaps be the most inappropriate title of any music track ever. Fortunately, the title appears as a corruption instead and once I found out what Balatron had named this track I had a hearty laugh about it. Clearly the guy has a sense of humour. I will have to say that I am personally not a big fan of the expletive nature of the vocal, but I do like how it is perhaps used as a humorous element here. All things considered this track for me stands out as a very solid heavy hitter.
ANGRBOÐA (ft. Monuman)
ANGRBOÐA is a track that is a bit grittier than the other tracks in this LP, but it gives it a good character. It is furthermore characterized by its sharp, high pitched "vocal", which runs through the background of the track. A danger with sounds like these is that they can be too loud and potentially obnoxious, but this is not the case here at all. The drums are once again spot on, I especially enjoy the fat snares that seem to be present in more than just this track. The track gives off a slightly creepy/eerie and mystical atmosphere. I do not speak Icelandic but I get the idea there is a story to this track. I would quite like to know whether or not I am right.
LOKI SWAG (ft. Subp Yao)
I really love seeing a collab with Subp Yao on this LP. To begin with, I think this track's title should pretty much immediately clue you into the fact that this is a Balatron track. What sets this track apart for me is the snare. It's not fat, but it hits like a truck. One thing that is peculiar about this track is the two-toned bassline. Since each bar starts and ends with the lower note, it gives you the impression that this is the key of the track itself. However, later in the track, a lovely melodic section is introduced and you find out this is not actually the case. I believe the lower note is too predominant in the bassline, so if I were to modify this track I would adjust it - perhaps only in the latter section - to synchronize the bass a bit more with the melody. This is perhaps my only real criticism. I really like tracks that evolve as they progress, and this track is certainly one of the better ones on the LP in my opinion.
NIÐHÖGGUR (ft. Survey)
This is the one. This track is all about power, I absolutely love it! This heavy growling bass which is perfectly interwoven by that punching kick drum. This is exactly the style of music I like when it comes to downtempo stuff. In addition, there is a very subtle yet very lovely swing to the drum layout, which I really, really appreciate. This is especially true when the shakers kick in halfway through the heavier sections. This LP has some serious contenders, but this is hands down my favourite. It's a clean and well-polished heavy hitter, exactly the stuff I like!
The first of two more mellow tracks on the LP. I appreciate every artist trying out more melodic stuff, even if they are not known for it. I certainly did not think Balatron did this kind of stuff! I feel it's a good showcase of how talented musicians really are if they can pull off every side of the spectrum. I feel that Balatron certainly succeeds here in that respect. Amelia's Dream is a very lovely atmospheric track. Noticeably softer, it draws more on its string arrangement and atmosphere than the usual heavy basslines and drum work I know Balatron for. The only thing I’m not keen on is the pitched vocal samples that the track is layered with. Not that it's not good or anything, I feel it adds to the track well. I am just really not a fan of that sound. I believe this is a very good track nonetheless. Everything works together well and nothing is out of place, which is important in a track that focuses on the melody. Well done!
The second mellow track funny enough comes right after the first one alphabetically. Take all my comments about Amelia's Dream and I believe FADING does them even better. FADING sets a beautiful atmosphere, I believe that out of all the tracks on this LP this one would be the most befitting of the background track to the LP's artwork. The only minor point I would tweak is the kick drum. I believe it is just a tad too heavy and I would make it slightly more subtle, however, this is a minor criticism at best. The track itself is absolutely solid and another shining example of the diverse range of musical output that YUKU advertises.
(After writing this I found out that this track actually does play in the animated artwork teaser for this LP on the YUKU Facebook page, lol.)
This track stands firmly by itself on this LP. It's very much like Balatron but done much differently than most other tracks here. I must admit I was initially mildly dismissive of this track, having heard only the first 16 bars of it on the LP’s preview mix on Soundcloud. I initially thought the track was too simple featuring just the drum work and sub-bass. After this though, the lead synth kicks in which completely transforms the track and turns it into something wicked. I can't explain why but it works so incredibly well! The backing vocal also works well with the rhythm of the track itself. This is nothing short of an excellent track and certainly one of my favourites on the LP. I like it-like!
I will have to admit that this track did not go down very well with me initially, to the point where I near enough dismissed it. The reason being, and again referring to above, that I really didn’t like the vocal in this track. Down pitched expletive-laden hip-hop vocals to me are an unpleasant trend in halftime and I was disappointed to find it here as well. I like to leave LPs and EPs intact in my playlists though, and after hearing this track a larger number of times it kind of started to grow on me because the track itself I do actually really like. There is a really fat snare, and there is a lot of them, which sets this track apart. I am a really big fan of this snare! I also really like the melody in the bassline which for me is one of the most memorable hooks in any of the tracks in this release. In short: HUGINN was once a letdown, but now a favourite. It’s funny how your view on music can change as time goes on…
MUNINN lacks the heavier snares and melodic bass patterns present in earlier tracks in the LP, but has an increased focus on a heavier, grittier bassline. This especially in the second part of the track where it grows even more intense. MUNINN also features vocal samples that work quite well to give the track a bit more energy whilst at the same time being fairly subtle. I would perhaps reduce the distortion on the bass just ever so slightly, as it feels like it is very close to clipping (I know this is a style of music though, just not my taste). I believe this track is an excellent example of Balatron's music. Its simple raw power, yet very well executed.
The focus on this track clearly lies on its heavy and powerful Reese in the middle. The music leading up to this section I find a bit simple, focusing mainly on percussion. This I can appreciate however as I see this as a build-up section. The midsection comes right at your face with the raw power of the Reese. It's cool, but I feel the Reese itself is slightly overbearing. The focus is perhaps a tad too much on the bass, and unfortunately, the track does not evolve much more beyond that. I get the premise of the track and I like the way it is laid out, but many of the tracks on this LP set a very high standard and this one probably just doesn't do it for me as much.
RUNWAY features a really cool differing vibe from the rest of this release. It's a lot less aggressive and more polished, feeling more "high-tech" than most other tracks on the LP. RUNWAY, like NIFLHEIM VIBES, features a long build-up to a heavier midsection. RUNWAY's midsection, instead of a Reese, features an aggressive saw lead. RUNWAY unfortunately for me suffers from the same problem as I feel that the lead eventually is too overbearing. The lead is already fairly loud, and its reverb tail boosts its presence in the track even more to the point where it becomes too noisy, almost obnoxiously as such. RUNWAY is an excellent deviation from the theme of this LP up to the point where it becomes a slight letdown for me. I feel the track work better for me if it was balanced slightly differently.
Wooloolooloo! I love this track! Whenever I hear this track I feel compelled to bob my head left and right because it is so unbelievably catchy! The bass is raw and gritty, but spaced out throughout the track with the highly recognizable double stabs every four beats. This is augmented even further by the beat pattern, which is perhaps the best thing about this entire track. The arrangement and drum sounds make it seem as if it is almost walking or marching. There isn't much surrounding this tune to discuss, it's just a very straightforward in your face kind of track. This track has grown on me very strongly after listening to it more and more to the point where for me it has become this LP’s signature track.
Straight Thuggin’ is one of the more aggressive tunes on this LP, having a similar vibe to MUNINN. Straight Thuggin' focuses on a much heavier bassline, which I believe is one of the best in the entire LP, especially about halfway through the track where it starts growling at you. I also really, really like the metallic snare that is present throughout the track. This is, simply put, a very powerful release which as I’ve stated before fits perfectly in my street of musical taste.
I AM THE DILEMA
The last track of the EP for me is a bit of a mixed bag (or a dilemma perhaps?). On one hand, I believe the intro is well done, adding a good atmosphere to the track. The drums after the drop sound absolutely excellent, so there are no issues here. On the other hand, this track features actual rapping which, unlike HUGINN's vocal, is credited to an actual artist here. I appreciate all forms of diversity in music but for me, vocals will always be dangerous territory. I'm afraid to say that the vocals here don't add much to this track for me. Also, the bassline in this track is something I can only describe as extremely wobbly. It's a cool concept but I feel that it seems to be out of sync with the beat, perhaps only as an audible artefact due to the nature of the tempo of both the beat and bass as I’m sure that Balatron would not intentionally mistime his beats. Whatever the reason, it makes for a track that is difficult for me to listen to. I’m sorry… I hate ending reviews on a low note...
In summary, though, Idavollur is an absolutely stellar LP, even taking into account the bits I did not like as much. It's a very well-crafted high-quality release that is fitting to be the first on YUKU, and I hope it sets the tone for all the future releases that are yet to come. I know this LP has been in the making for a long time but I am sure it has been worth the wait for many. For me, it was a more than welcome proper introduction to Balatron and his sound. He clearly is a well-rounded artist with a nice big bag of tricks to make his releases stand out. I'm sure this LP is something he is very proud of and if not, he should be. I feel that this LP also contains a lot more personality than your average release as evidenced by the many icelandicisms, just to name an example. I'm sure this LP is much more symbolic than what I have managed to gather from it while writing this though, and I really wish I could touch on that a bit more. I’m sure I’ll find out if there’s a deeper meaning or message at some point, but for now, this LP for me is all about downtempo excellence!
Final rating: 9/10
Favourite track: NIÐHÖGGUR
Balatron’s Idavollur LP is out now and available digitally and on Vinyl through the Yuku Bandcamp store. If you are interested in obtaining this release, check it out here! This review was written well before the official release as I have been able to obtain it myself by being a Yukru member, which for me is very exciting and something I would like to share with you.
Yuku is a new and exciting label concept featuring a diverse roster of artists focusing on more than just music. It is a movement, a vision, a community. The most dedicated of its supporters are the Yukru. Yuku’s concept for me is exciting and I feel has great potential. I trust that the people behind the label will go out of its way to produce masterfully crafted releases, each one being an experience on its own. This is why I have provided them with my support. In exchange for this level of trust, as a Yukru member I am entrusted with every single release on the label half a year in advance of its release date. In addition, I am provided with the actual vinyl releases, artwork prints and unique apparel. If you are an open-minded listener that likes being surprised by diverse sonic material and you are keen on being a driving force to make this happen, then perhaps being a Yukru member is something for you! For more information on joining, check out the following link for more information: https://www.yuku.io/blog/view/7/the-yukru