Although they met about a decade before while attending high school in San Jose, CA, the members of San Francisco-based indie rock trio Balms (Jared, Michael and John) officially formed the band in 2013. Initially playing extremely loud pop rock sets in John’s basement, the band’s sound began to evolve towards a dream pop leaning sound with an uneasy undertone as they spent increasing time in San Francisco record stores and venues. Interestingly, some coined the term “dreamare pop” to describe their sound, which is centered around fuzzy and distorted guitars, melodic bass, dynamic vocals and plaintive vocals.
The band self-released their first batch of singles and they began to receive praise from the indie and underground shoegaze scene, and as a result they spent the next year self-recording, mixing and then releasing their self-titled debut, which they followed up with some extensive West Coast touring. (Of course, such extensive touring helped the band develop a reputation for a energetic yet vulnerable live show.)
Over the past few years, the individual members of the band have wrestled with the unfolding questions and realties of their lives and with each other, and that wound up influencing the material that would comprise their full-length debut Mirror, which is slated for a February 2019 release. Naturally, the album is a deeply introspective record with arguably some of the band’s darkest and heaviest thematic material to date. As the members of the band explain in a lengthy statement on the album:
“Mirror is our debut as well as double-sided concept album. The album’s narrative is a journey-of-self; an exploration confronting the shadow-aspect of the soul. That being said, the only two characters in this story are the Self and the Shadow. With this comes the introverted drama and solitude of the ego. And while this was a source of contention for us in terms of perception, it is our genuine hope that this album can exist as a place of reconciliation, revitalization, and growth. It is a place that has been built for you because we had to make it and to make it the best we can.
The story begins at the bottom – the relative place that some of us are lucky enough or damned enough to reach. And with that place comes a choice: Do I rely on someone else to pull me out? Do I retreat to someone else’s arms? Do I make a choice to dive into myself and deal with the darkness? That moment can become you for the rest of your life, or become the beginning. What choice do you make? Who do you choose to be? And after, to realize that this is a choice you must continue to make for the rest of your life. The shadow inside will always continue to tempt you; it never leaves. The dark, the dove, the shadow is you.
To write this record, we spent a considerable amount of time working out the parts and structures through repetitive jamming followed by conversation over the course of about a year. On a personal level, the lyrics and story are journalistic, confessional, healing, confrontational, and accepting. As a band, we dealt with these questions and realities through the songs and through our relationships with each other. As we began to mix and finalize the album, and it began to take shape, it was challenging to grasp exactly which part of the album was most important, or if there should be a message communicated directly through its release. We finally came to the conclusion that the most important thing is for this record — MIRROR — to be a healing and nurturing place for you. It certainly is for us.”
The album’s latest single, the moody “Plane” is centered around shimmering guitar chords, an angular and propulsive bass line, equally propulsive drumming and plaintive vocals — and while nodding at 4AD Records post-punk, the song is moody meditation on our unseen, interior lives and how we carefully and deliberately balance our interior selves with our exterior selves.