A couple of years ago, the acclaimed Belgian indie rock act and JOVM mainstays Balthazar –songwriting duo Maarten Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, along with Simon Casier, Michiel Balcaen and Tijs Delbeke — went on a hiatus that allowed the band’s songwriting duo to pursue their own critically applauded, solo projects: Devoldere’s brooding and 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 liberating, they found the time apart from each other and the band sparking an undeniable urge to work together, propelled by a greater mutual respect for each other’s individual work — and a desire for a much broader artistic vision for the band.
When Balthazar reconvened to work on 2019’s Fever, they did so without any particular plan. But they had hoped that would improve upon their previously released work, show deeper artistic growth and further the band’s story. As they started to work, Devoldere and Deprez also mutually agreed that the album’s material should have a less serious, less melancholy tone. The end result is what may arguably be some of the loosest and most playful material of their career.
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 new material, which eventually became their fifth and latest album, Sand. Released earlier this year, the album finds the acclaimed JOVM mainstays fully embracing a soulful alt pop and R&B leaning sound while being what they believe may be the most cohesive effort of their growing catalog 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.
In the lead up to the album’s release, I’ve written about four of Sand‘s singles:
- “Halfway,” a shimmering, blue-eyed soul-like take on the Quiet Storm sound.
- Losers,” a slinky, disco-like song centered around Devoldere’s sultry baritone, shimmering synth arpeggios and an infectious hook. But at its core, the song captures and evokes the anxious uncertainty of our lives over the past 15-19 months or so.
- “You Won’t Come Around,” a slow-burning and cinematic, bit of 70s inspired R&B featuring shimmering strings, strummed acoustic guitar, skittering beats. And over that gorgeous arraignment, Devoldore expresses 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.
- “On A Roll,” a strutting yet seamless synthesis of their pre-Fever sound with their recent R&B-influenced material centered around Deprez’s crooning falsetto.
After pandemic-related lockdowns, the members of the JOVM mainstay act got together for the first time in close to a year for the Heleen Declerq-directed and filmed documentary and concert film Sand Castle Tapes. Co-produced with HolyShit Sessions, the film captures the band staying at a beautiful old castle near Brussels as they got together to interpret and play Sand‘s material for the first time together. Declerq manages to capture the atmosphere of the castle and the music while giving an intimate look at the band. “You get to fully understand an album when you start playing it together, the relaxed circumstances lead to a whole other way of interpreting the songs,” the band says of Sand Castle Tapes.
In the lead up to Sand Castle Tapes EP‘s release, I’ve managed to write about two of its singles:
- A loose and jammy rendition of “Moment,” that found the band joyously expanding upon the song’s groove. Throughout the intimate and gorgeously shot footage, it’s made obvious that the band and their collaborators are just thrilled to be together and playing music together.
- A stripped down and intimate version of “On a Roll” centered around piano and mournful horns by Rob Banken, Peter Delannoye and Thomas Mayade. And over that slow-burning and gorgeous arrangement, Deprez takes up lead vocal duties while backed by Devoldere and some backing vocals by Judith Okon, Stefy Rika and Sarah Devos. The live rendition pulls out the confusion, heartache and longing of the original in a new direction.
The EP’s third and latest single is fairly straightforward rendition of “I Want You” with a subtle re-arranging for a live setting that replaces synths with piano while retaining the sultry, late night yearning at the core of the song. The live footage features the band playing in a gorgeous, old hotel room with a strobe light, meant to mimic a brewing storm outside.
Sand is out now. But the band will be releasing The Sand Castle Tapes EP digitally through Play It Again Sam on September 24, 2021. The EP will feature 10 songs from the Sand Castle Tapes film — 8 reworked songs off Sand and two jams. You can pre-order the EP here.