Acclaimed Belgian indie rock act Balthazar led by songwriting partners Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez went on a hiatus several years ago that allowed for the duo to pursue their own, critically applauded solo effects — Devoldere’s brooding, hyper literature Warhaus.and Deprez’s old school R&B-inspired J. Bernardt. While Devoldere and Deprez found the ability to pursue their own individual whims and muses to be liberating, they also found the time apart sparking an undeniable urge to work together again, propelled by a much broader artistic vision, as well as a greater mutual respect for each other’s individual work and abilities.
When the members of Balthazar reconvened to work on last year’s Fever, they did so without any particular plan. Their hope was to improve upon their previously released work and show deeper artistic growth — and to further the band’s story. As Devoldere and Deprez started to write Fever’s material, they mutually agreed that the album would have a less serious, less melancholy tone. And while arguably finding the band at their loosest and most playful of their catalog. the album’s material maintained the deliberate craftsmanship and razor sharp hooks that have won them national and international attention.
Last year also saw the band on a relentless touring schedule to support Fever that included a stop at Baby’s All Right. Feeling invigorated from playing Fever’s material on tour, Devoldere and Deprez wrote a batch of material that began with the sultry-old school R&B-like “Halfway,” which found the band continuing the sound and aesthetic of Fever but while pushing it in an accessible, pop-leaning direction.
Sand, the JOVM mainstays’ fifth album reportedly finds the band fully embracing soulful alt pop and crafting what may arguably be the most cohesive album of their careers. “There’s a theme running through these tracks, waiting, restlessness, not being able to live in the moment or putting your trust into the future,” Deprez and Devoldere explain. “We’re at a point in our lives when we have to consider these aspects of life, that’s why the album is called Sand – after the sand in an hourglass.”
“The idea was always to drop another album as soon as possible after Fever. It was fun and we wanted to build on that,” Jinte Deprez says in press notes. “We did a lot of things that we haven’t done previously – we’ve never used as many drum samples or used bass synths before. So that was an exciting step for us. It was a very modern way of making an album, due to the constraints of the pandemic and we had to work remotely and converse electronically rather than in a studio.” “I can’t wait to play this album live because on the Fever tour we pushed the groove element further,” Maarten Devoldere adds.
Last month, I wrote about Sand’s first single, the slinky and disco-tinged “Losers.” Centered Devolodre’s sultry baritone, falsetto backing vocals, shimmering synth arpeggios and an infectious hook, “Losers” retains a cool, seemingly European sophistication, but at its core, the song captured the anxious uncertainty of much of this period: most of us have felt as though our personal and professional lives are in an indefinite stasis without any idea of what may be next.
Sand’s second and latest single “You Won’t Come Around” is slow-burning bit of cinematic, Quiet Storm-inspired R&B centered around shimmering strings, strummed acoustic guitar, skittering beats and achingly plaintive vocals expressing regret and nostalgia over a relationship that has ended — but there’s also guilt over being relieved that the relationship has ended, that the narrator has moved forward. “Breakup songs come in different shapes,” Balthazar’s Maarten Devoldere explains. “This one’s about the guilt you feel after you follow your selfish heart blindly into a new love.’
Originally slated for release at the end of January, Sand is now slated for a February 26, 2020 release though Play It Again Sam.