There’s a point on Balthazar’s second record ‘Rats’ during ‘Sinking Ship’ where the music takes a backseat, where the rhythm fades away and a choir of lonely boys sing; “We’ll get to know your sad side again” over and over again – as if someone’s dumped them in a freezing cold forest with no direction home. It’s a moment of gut-wrenching melancholy that not only plucks the heartstrings, but destroys them. This is Balthazar going all the way, with no boundaries. This, fellow travellers, is ‘Rats’.
“It’s become quite a romantic record”, Jinte Deprez says “You have to be in that special kind of mood”. Maarten Devoldere, Jinte’s songwriting partner in crime, nods and whispers reassuring: “Just take your time with it. It’s an album to soundtrack your everyday pleasures and your everyday pains.” Maarten and Jinte go way back. They used to be teenage buskers, competing with each other, until they realized that sometimes one and one make three. Their newfound alliance led them into a vortex of musical adventures. They studied music production together and discovered the beauty and the power of string and brass arrangements.
“It’s what we do”, Maarten says “It’s a piece of cake to write a fancy big band arrangement. Some people may find it exotic. But once you learn the math, anything’s possible. Funnily enough, nowadays we’re more interested in writing simple pop music”. In their quest for the perfect pop song, the duo founded Balthazar, a mean groove machine that released a fine debut album in 2010, chock-full of catchy, wiry indie pop.
The band earned their stripes while touring Europe: they toured the UK and France supporting dEUS and they played their hearts out in Germany, Swiss, Italy, Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Now there’s ‘Rats’, a record that emphasizes Balthazar’s love for classic pop productions. “Most of contemporary pop productions sound too ‘noughties’”, Maarten shrugs; “There’s no depth. We’ve tried a different approach”. Maarten en Jinte cherish their love for masterful songwriters such as Leonard Cohen. They dived headfirst into Serge Gainsbourg’s sixties output: it made them think differently about rhythm, about orchestration and mixing. “In the past we just wanted to write cool arrangements. Not this time. We wanted the emotions to surface.”
Mission accomplished. ‘The Oldest of Sisters’ works its mojo thanks to an irresistible Gainsbourg-ish rhythm section, yet, it’s the vocal harmony and the stark horn section that’ll move you to tears. Do check out the diabolically frivolous ‘Joker’s Son’ where Balthazar’s colourful, slightly tipsy chants hold up a flame to set the night on fire. ‘Listen Up’ marries a comfy jazz vibe and Bollywood-strings beautifully, leaving room for a sparkling chorus. A sunny singalong for rainy days.
Truth is, the boys can’t wait to play these new songs in front of an audience, together with the other Balthazar members: Patricia Vanneste, Simon Casier and Christophe Claeys. “Every night we’ll play our best show ever. Just watch us.”