Acclaimed Belgian indie rock act and JOVM mainstays 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. And while Devoldere and Deprez found the ability to pursue their own individual whims and muses liberating, they also found the time apart sparking an undeniable urge to work together again, propelled a greater mutual respect for each other’s individual work and a much broader artistic vision.
When the members of Balthazar reconvened to work on 2019’s Fever, they did so without any particular plan. Their hope was to improve upon their previously released work, show deeper artistic growth, and to further the band’s story. Interestingly, when the band’s primary writing team began to write Fever’s material, they mutually agreed that the album would have a less serious, less melancholy tone. And as a result, the album’s material may arguably be among the loosest and most playful of their careers while maintaining the deliberate craftsmanship and razor sharp hooks that have won them national and international attention.
Balthazar supported Fever with a relentless touring schedule that included a stop at Baby’s All Right. Feeling invigorated from playing Fever on tour, Devoldere and Deprez started working on a new batch material that included the sultry, Quiet Storm-like “Halfway,” a track that found the band continuing where their last album left off — but while pushing the overall sound and aesthetic in an even more accessible, pop-leaning direction.
Interestingly, the JOVM mainstays’ fifth album Sand reportedly finds the band fully embracing the soulful alt pop/R&B sound of “Halfway” while crafting what the band believes is the most cohesive album of their careers to date. “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,” Balthazar’s Deprez and Devoldere explain in press notes. “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.
So far I’ve written about two of Sand’s official singles:
“Losers,” a slinky, disco-tinged yet sophisticated track centered around Devoldere’s sultry baritone, shimmering synth arpeggios and an infectious hook, but at its core, the song captures the anxious uncertainty of our moment, a moment in which most of us feel as though our personal and professional lives have been in an indefinite stasis.
“You Won’t Come Around,” a slow-burning and cinematic, R&B-inspired track featuring shimmering strings, strummed acoustic guitar, skittering beats and Devoldore expressing a confusing yet familiar series of emotions: regret and heartache that a romantic relationship has ended, relief that the relationship has ended and guilt that maybe they’ve moved on a bit too quickly; or in other words, the gnawing sense that you might be a selfish, uncaring asshole.
Clocking in at a little under four minutes, “On A Roll,” Sand’s latest single finds the JOVM mainstays crafting a strutting and seamless synthesis of their pre-Fever sound with their recent R&B-influenced leanings with the track featuring buzzing bass synths, slinky guitar lines, glistening synth arpeggios, a sinuous bass line, a mournful horn arrangement and skittering beats, Deprez’s soulful crooning and falsetto.
Directed by Pieter De Cnudde, the recently released and incredibly cinematic video for “On A Roll” was shot at the NH Hotel in Bruges, Belgium, and follows Balthazar’s songwriting duo in a Groundhog’s Day-like hell.”The song and video is about the repetitive lack of control you have on situations, your life, your own ways,” Deprez explains in press notes. “Even for a moment when you think you can escape your own loop, you find yourself right back at the start again, finding out the changes didn’t change the outcome, or you.”
Sand is slated for a February 26, 2020 release though Play It Again Sam.