Album Review: Balthazar – Sand

[Play It Again Sam; 2021]

With Balthazar’s fifth album, Sand, Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez showcase their infectious songcraft, juxtaposing their voices in eminently enticing ways while perfecting the dance-rock and beat-driven soundscapes deftly explored on previous albums, particularly 2019’s Fever.

On early highlight “Losers”, Devoldere conjures his solo work under the moniker Warhaus, offering a sultrily prophetic vocal reminiscent of Leonard Cohen: “I’ve been tying my shoes together / then I’ve been trying to walk away.” The glitchy chorus is irresistibly carried by Deprez’s contrastive falsetto, undergirded by a swirly bass line and jazzily constructed beats. The following “On a Roll” is immediately seductive, featuring a rakish vocal à la Arctic Monkeys’ Alex Turner and a higher-pitched and uber-hook-y chorus – finger-snapping, hip-swaying, ultra-nirvanic pop.

“I Want You” conjures Reflektor-era Arcade Fire, synth-y bass and slinky beats sustaining a dance-y vibe while Devoldere’s vocal takes on a slightly sinister tone. Horns on the song’s bridge invite melancholy without disrupting the buoyant feel. On “You Won’t Come Around”, the band delves deeper into the dance-rock catalog, alchemizing the early pop and mid-career disco of the Bee Gees, perhaps by way of MGMT’s 2007 debut Oracular Spectacular, or recent work by Tame Impala. “Hourglass” may remind some listeners of recent Cage the Elephant, the moody verse giving way to a countertenor-propelled, ebullient, and instantly beguiling chorus.

With “Passing Through”, Balthazar slow the pace, offering a more spacious and textural track. A keyboard drone unspools throughout the piece, a dramatic energy pervading the song with the addition of tremulous strings for the final minute. The chorus of “Halfway” revises the melody from the Stones’ “Miss You”, Deprez’s R&B-inflected vocal bringing to mind his solo work as J. Bernardt. The album ends with “Powerless”, featuring a tinkly piano part that invokes a loungey ambience that’s sustained throughout. The blurted “power!” followed by Devoldere’s louche “less and less … it came to this” radiates a retro EDM quality, beat-heavy though not beat-dependent, resulting in the most atmospheric track on the album.

With Sand, Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, individually and as a duo, offer captivating vocal performances. Additionally, and saliently, this record features exemplary hooks, each song unfurling within dynamic pop and dance-rock templates. With Sand, Balthazar actualize the potential displayed on earlier projects, distinguishing themselves in a genre packed with talented creators.