Balthrop, Alabama have released a beautiful debut record, or should I say, two beautiful records: Your Big Plans and Our Little Town. Each disc contains 8 tracks, elaborately packaged as one, in a manner that brings to mind more of a Criterion Collection DVD release than a double record. The eco-friendly cardboard packaging comes complete with a booklet containing lyrics and specific artwork for each track. Really, the entire project has a very cinematic feeling. The credits list a cast of characters with fictional names, adding to the feeling that you have in your possession something more than just a collection of songs.
Though a cast of over 30 characters are credited, Balthrop, Alabama is essentially a project of Pascal Balthrop, who wrote the words and music, and commands prominent vox and guitar on nearly all 16 tracks.
Disc 1, Your Big Plans, opens with birds chirping over organ like keys for a mellow almost deceiving number that flows into “Colored Eggs”, a rough track showcasing Pascal’s vocals which are prominent on the rest of the album. It took me a couple listens to get used to the tracks that showcase some of his rougher vocals, very reminiscent of Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade), but they work nicely in between the more melodic songs that really drive the album.
It wont take long to recognize that there is quite a bit of depth in these records, with an excellent display of background vocals from a rotating cast of characters, and an eclectic bit of instrumentation including the perfect use of a bad toy piano to create a xylophone sound (unless it actually is a xylophone?). In addition to the toy piano, you’ll hear cornet, viola, and a glockenspiel riddled throughout the album. Lyrically the album is sound, and equally eclectic - with songs of love, loss, and escape, then there’s the ode to satellites, a little girl on a beach, and a song about how "Taipei is a Shithole". Track 4, “Love to Love You” is an incredibly likable track, and track 7, "Explode", showcases a great use of shared male/female vox, as well as the remarkable backing vocals that really give the album as a whole a refreshing sound.
Disc 2, Our Little Town, is the stronger of the two discs, with a bigger, very solid, and more fluid sound. It opens with the dark jingle-jangly “Another Hell to Live In”. The second track, “Down On Us” shines as a beautiful Beatlesque number featuring stand out vocals by Caithlin de Marrais (Rainer Maria). Truly a must-hear, this lofty breakup song will have you melting with lyrics like:
“and every time I think of you, I smile despite the pain / cuz I know that it was worth it all somehow / and I know that we could never be together again / but a friend is something we could both use now.”
Track 4, "Satellite" is a toe-tapping infectious number, "Gergiana Starlington", another stand-out track, delves into the lyrically darker side, flowing nicely into"Tightrope", which utilizes a wurlitzer-like sound to create a slightly creepy, yet appropriate, circus feeling.
Overall Our Big Plans & Your Little Town is a great album; at times it remind me of a more pop-friendly Sunset Rubdown, other times I can’t help thinking Belle & Sebastian and The Moldy Peaches. (So, there’s your obligatory RIYL.) The whole package gets an 8 out of 10; a well thought-out record, dark on the inside and coated with an indie, yet friendly pop-sensibility.