Text: Dennis de Waard 

Two years after the comeback of Belgium’s best band, a new release by Balthazar appears: Sand. With the previous album Fever, the band had completely reinvented itself: Patricia Vanneste left the group, but still played the violin parts and was replaced by all-rounder Michiel Balcaen. The art-rock sound became more art-pop and R&B. A perfect fusion of the front man’s own sound (Warhaus and J. Bernardt). Now on album number five, with the previous released singles in mind, there are still high expectations but few surprises.

Conceptually, Sand is an interesting one. ‘Sand’ stands for the sand in an hourglass. The album cover features the artwork ‘Homunculus loxodontus’ by Margriet van Breevoort. The artwork represents waiting and also ‘waits’ in a waiting room at the LUMC in Leiden. Waiting stands for time. Time passes and in a period that seems to be on pause, it is time for self-reflection. We hear the band reflecting on failed relationships (‘You Won’t Come Around’) and more references to time appear on the album (‘Moment’, ‘Hourglass’, ‘Halfway’).

Balthazar’s sound continues the ‘Fever’ formula: sultry art pop poured over with R&B. But the band also takes the sound a little further, introducing afrobeat, drum computers and a little electronics on opener ‘Moment’. On the clumsy ‘I Want You’ we even hear some jazz and on ‘Linger On’ we get a shameless and sexy disco bang. The success formula sounds more radio-friendly but at the same time just as exciting, dark, sultry and sexy. The front man of J. Bernardt and Warhaus sound even better matched and the sound they manage to create is incomparable in their genre.

This fifth from Balthazar kept things exciting for a while. The singles were, for the first time in the band’s career, not inviting enough to make one eagerly await the album, and the lyrics are not quite on the same level as ‘Rats’ either, but the band still manages to deliver an album that gets better each time you listen to it. ‘Sand’ as a whole is fortunately better than the singles and there are songs on the album that are equal to their best (‘You Won’t Come Around’, ‘Moment’, ‘Leaving Antwerp’). Balthazar have done it again and know how to keep their throne on the Belgian indie scene.

PIAS