If we look up a concept like “urban melancholy” in the dictionary, we probably won’t find what we are looking for. In reality, there’s no likely definition or category in which to place it, but everyone more or less knows what we’re talking about when we say that. There are artists, groups, composers, and producers who appear to have been born expressly to give voice, image, and sound to this idea. Burial, Fennesz after “Endless Summer,” M83, the more ambient Brian Eno, Cliff Martinez, Stars Of The Lid, and a long list of figures capture this explosion of intimate, interiorised emotion in their creations—almost in slow motion, unfocused—and they manage to integrate in into the context of a big city and all of the sentimental, personal issues characterised there. They have the gift of creating images, sensations, and moments of loneliness, tiredness, uncertainty, and sadness in the context of the immensity of granite and asphalt; they, and some others, are the real creators of the soundtrack of the present day, the ones who best know how to put sound and audio to our time.
The Catalan band Balago belongs, without a shadow of a doubt, to this line of solitary names—curiously all influences recognised by the band’s leader, David Crespo—who strike out on their own and, without even trying to, put music to interminable bus rides down long avenues, tense, uneasy walks down dark streets, sunrises seen through the front window of a taxi, required stops at 24-hour petrol stations or convenience stores, or angry bouts of late-night jogging. Contrary to what logic tells us, for getting powerful, danceable hits to increase your effort and motivation, few experiences this year can equal that of going out to burn shoe rubber on a dark night with “Extractes d’un Diari” on your iPod. Let’s mix bubbling endorphins, cold, knackered pedestrians on their way home from work, an acceptable rhythm per kilometre, and the modest ambient symphony suggested by this group from La Garriga in their comeback, and we will get one of those moments to keep in your musical memory, like the first time that you heard “Untrue” on the way home after an infernal working day, or the first time that you thought to put the soundtrack to “Solaris” by Cliff Martinez on to isolate yourself from the surrounding drunken hubbub of an underground car on any given Friday night.
Balago, or (the same thing) David Crespo, is accompanied this time by his brother Roger and by Guim Serradesanferm, who was already in the band for the first two albums; they have always sounded like this, like urban melancholy, but this sensation is intensified in this new album. The band was coming off of “D’Aquii”, Crespo’s very hard exercise in therapy and personal redemption, which he recorded solo, based on the cold, hermetic, claustrophobic development of an ambient that was harsh and not very accessible, despite its powerful emotional impact. For the musician, who lives in a village outside of Barcelona, La Garriga, this is probably the album that can most be identified with his surroundings, habitat, and day-to-day life, as this chilly mantra of drones perfectly symbolises the isolation of the author during its gestation, as well as his distance from an urban area like Barcelona. “Extractes d’un Diari”, on the other hand, proposes a notably different process from its predecessor, especially in the adopting of a warmer, more variable, more organic sound structure. It would be hard to say whether this reorientation is due to the return of Guim and the definitive entrance of Roger into the recording process, giving it more instrumental presence, with a more important role for synthesisers. It may also be due to the fact that this is no longer an album to exorcise demons, to rue one’s losses, and to narrate a thorough personal breakdown—but one thing is clear: the group has changed its skin again successfully and has once again managed to capture the essence of a musical and personal moment that it isn’t difficult at all to identify with and take shelter in.
In “Extractes d’un Diari”, Balago recover the support of some beats, inject more melodic weight into the songs, play more emphatically with synthesisers, and end up transmitting more life, body, and muscle to their discourse. And all of this without leaving that circle of ambient-soundtrack where they are so at home, ever since the best passages of “El Segon Pis”, a second album whose wake is taken up again here, insisting on the idea of establishing a linear plot from flashes and sparks lasting one to two minutes, totally contrary to the long tracks on “D’Aquii”. It doesn’t seek to be one, nor is it in reality, but in a sense the album works as a summary and compendium of the sound personality of David Crespo over the course of a decade. The meticulous mastery of drone and the ambient of “D’Aquii”, the capacity for emotive condensation of “El Segon Pis”, the intelligent use of melodies of “erm”, and the cinematographic, evocative, visual ambition—seemingly satisfied, by the way—of his soundtracks for films and plays. There are also some new things added to the mix: cosmic flirtations in some fragments, without stridency, but with a great deal of intention and a good nose for sound; the surprising rhythmic charge of some songs; or occasional dabbling in psychedelics give his formula colour and new possibilities, inviting one to think very well of the group’s future.
If someone had asked me a few months ago how I thought that Balago would sound in 2010, I couldn’t have come up with a better explanation than this album. And this is something that has happened, personally, with each one of the four albums that make up the band’s career. “Extractes d’un Diari” is ambient that is exciting, alive, moving, and relatively easy, accessible, just what we were asking for or what we needed at this exact moment. The (near) achievement of a sound ideal that continues to stand entirely alone within the context of Spanish music, and which in a fair world would have to have a British, American, or German passport in order to receive the international recognition and applause that it really deserves. A blessed anomaly.