My reason, I suppose, is one of purpose. I think of music primarily as an end in and of itself, something to be meditated upon and enjoyed for what it is, not for what can be done while listening to it. In this sense, live performances are merely an opportunity to add a visual element to an auditory medium—to see what I have heretofore only been able to hear.
Dancing, on the other hand, is less about watching and listening than about doing. That is: setting music to motion in the form of exaggerated physical movements and complex, beat-matching choreography. It’s captivating and sensual when done well, awkward and garish when not.
Being both tall and notoriously uncoordinated, I tend to fall in with the latter… which is why implicitly dance-centric pop-rock acts like Baltimore’s Balkan Falcon tend to leave me a little nonplussed.
It’s not that the music isn’t enjoyable; hardly. Featuring motile percussion, skittering guitar riffs, flexible four-string, and rough-cut vocals from Snowmen alumni Steve Glickman, Greg Hamilton, and Matthew Dahl, Balkan Falcon’s take on Kraut-informed, punk- and funk-infused power-trio pop-rock rolls and rattles around in the back of your mind, its jagged rhythms and cutting melodies poking and prodding the ol’ grey matter in ways that cannot help but lead to tapping toes, shuffling steps, clapping hands, and bobbing heads. Good things, all.
Both high volume and high energy, Balkan Falcon’s debut EP, E.P.luribus Falco, serves up six quickly-quaffed and easily-digested musical offerings. Though scarcely any track on the album pushes past the three-and-half-minute mark, they’re less throwaway bits of bubblegum pop than throw-it-back shots of bubblegum vodka with a cherry cola chaser. That is, deceptively easy on the palette and unexpectedly deadly to the inhibitions. Drink it up and drink it in, and you’ll doubtless find yourself grooving along with the crowd.
Make no mistake, the music of E.P.luribus Falco was made with crowds in mind, and is best played at boisterous house parties and in roiling rock clubs, the low end pulsing through the walls and ceiling, the highs floating over flailing limbs and smiling faces, the vocals blurred by a heady mix of liquid courage, background conversation, reverb, and ambient noise. Sure, you can always throw on a pair of headphones and have your own solo dance party at home, but it’s just not the same. Albums like E.P.luribus Falco need moving bodies, and lots of ‘em. Otherwise, you might find yourself paying too much attention to what’s being sung.
And that’s where Balkan Falcon kinda-sorta lost me. You see, lyrical storytelling isn’t exactly E.P.luribus Falco’s biggest draw, and concentrated at-home listening tends to shift the focus from the musical energy behind a given song to the lyrical message it hopes to convey.
E.P.luribus Falco, sadly, is a little light on the latter, but not for a lack of trying.
Lead-off track “Cloverfield” borrows liberally from its 2008 hand-cam horror-flick namesake, but the song does little more than summarize the events of the movie and set them against a backdrop of punchy rhythms and angular guitar accents. An interesting idea imperfectly executed, “Cloverfield” is emotionally distant and too literal by half. Given the source material, the potential for focused extrapolation and allusive vignettes abounds, yet Balkan Falcon take the easy (and easily forgettable) route of a too-literal retelling haphazardly draped over an otherwise-intriguing pop-rock frame. Where are the chaos and destruction? The fear and desperation? The loss and heartache? The star-crossed romantics fighting against impossible odds and otherworldly monsters? How, with all of these theatrical and thematic elements at their disposal, did Balkan Falcon turn out such a bland and unaffecting song?
But that’s just the first track, and arguably the weakest of the set. “Pitted Dates” fairs far better, its tense, vaguely eastern guitar jangle and funk-fueled rhythms playing off a series of small-scale lovers’ spats. It’s quick and quarrelsome, raw and rattled, pissed off and petulant—perfect for the jostling mass of jilted singletons hoping to score some rebound love on the dance floor, or simply to strut and flaunt what they’ve got. Hell, you can almost imagine frontman Matthew Dahl saluting an ex with a middle finger and a grin as he settles into the breakdown and makes eyes at the crowd.
Next up, “Pance Down Dants Down” is just what its title suggests: a tongue-in-cheek come-on of a rip-roaring party tune, a musical invitation to shake your derrière both on and off the dance floor.
“Tommy Roe” keeps the quirkiness a-coming with a bit of fast-paced nightlife before its bop-bop-bop-bop-bop-baddop-bah chorus trails into the alternatingly anxious and ruminative surfer ode “Cora Jane”, the latter shifting back and forth between low-key verses and buzzsaw, howl-along bridges.
Ending the EP on a somewhat dark note, the remarkably tight “1x1 Plan” juxtaposes its garbled guitars and forceful rhythms with a maudlin tale of manic episodes and suicidal tendencies. While it may seem a bit incongruous at first, this conflict between lyrical content and musical context effectively reinforces the bipolar angst to which the song’s narrative alludes. A bit of a downer, sure, but tracks like “1x1 Plan” provide further proof that dance-centric pop-rock can do more than just drink and flirt and party.
For a first time out, Balkan Falcon’s E.P.luribus Falco shows a lot of promise, both instrumentally and lyrically. It might not be enough to coax this clumsy, curmudgeonly rock-critic onto the dance floor, but then again, that’s probably for the best.
Self-released on April 21, 2012, Balkan Falcon’s E.P.luribus Falco is available for purchase via Bandcamp and iTunes.
Audio Reviews (April 26th, 2012)
Tags: beatbots, audio, reviews, balkan falcon, e.p.luribus falco, snowmen, baltimore