On the Bandcamp page where Balam Acab released his second album, Child Death, you'll find a handful of genre tags, including devotional, ambient, experimental, psychedelic and punk. Surprisingly, every descriptor fits well with the music on the young Pennsylvanian artist's five-song full-length. Only one of them, however, would've been appropriate for Balam Acab's first LP. Back in 2011, Wander / Wonder rolled together R&B, folk, classical, bass music, ambient and trip-hop into something altogether magical, like Disney's The Little Mermaid reimagined by Aaliyah, Grouper, Vashti Bunyan and Burial. And yet Alec Koone makes a great effort to distance Child Death from that sound, as if to say the 19-year-old kid who made those early records is no more.
Koone took to Twitter to point out some of what's different about his new process, which involved far less sampling, lots of live vocals and his own guitar playing. Of course, growth and change are good things, but Child Death is more an album of awkward growing pains than a complete metamorphosis. Singers are timid and obscured, guitars sound spindly and basic, drums often feel stiff and mixes can verge on overcrowded. (On that note, kudos to Sam Haar of Blondes for mixing "ANDIWILLTELLU" into something that mostly makes sense.) Where Koone hasn't faltered is melody, and to his credit, Child Death is propped up on more than a handful of gorgeous passages.
Which is to say there is good, maybe even powerful music within Child Death's dense 32 minutes. "Glory Sickness" and "Spent Lives" echo the rich, choral beauty of Wander / Wonder in places, though the former also dabbles in faux-black metal and indie, while the latter boldly encroaches on Rival Dealer's block. For its intro, "Underwater Forever" floats in bubbles, harps, hymns, birdsong and other heavenly arrangements, but soon gives way to blast beats, squealing synth and fuzzy power chords. It's actually one of Child Death's most coherent (and best) songs, which says something about the amount of ideas Koone crams into each track. The trancey, orchestral breakdown in the third quarter of "ANDIWILLTELLU" is among his best work, but he ditches it to end on a whiny, four-chord plod. For every part you love in Child Death, there could be one just around the corner ready to subvert it.
- Patric Fallon, Resident Advisor