Rats compromises of numerous unassuming, multi-cultural elements that would be difficult to imagine existing together had they not been brought together for Balthazar's second full length release. The Belgian group, compromising of founding members Martin Devoldere and Jinte Deprez, with Patricia Vanneste, Simon Casier and Christophe Claeys making up the rest of the group, have found their spot in music between the fork in the road leading to indie-pop and continental rock similar to the likes of Beirut and Fleet Foxes - that is, they have managed to produce a twee yet respectable sounding record with Rats.
The fact that the album, despite being released on continental Europe in the later stages of 2012, was released in the U.K. only a few weeks ago in late February highlights the ready availability of indie groups attempting to appeal to the multi-genre loving, alternative-savvy cool kids and the listeners of Radio 1 reliant on the station to bring them new music. Rats is nothing new, and it doesn't really bring anything to the table that hasn't already been left lying around before, but this by no means diminishes the album's quality for it s a thoroughly enjoyable listen and an album that gets better with each passing play.
Album opener 'The Oldest of Sisters' kicks things off in a jumble of varying influences as far-flung as baroque jazz to alt-rock, with following track 'Sunken Ships' placing the bar at it's highest peak with it's intricate polka-pop arrangements and rousing lyrics ('from my pen you expected the sweet honey to drip/ but the words come out like rats leaving a sinking ship'). The majority of the album fails to live up to the standard set by the first three tracks, with groovy drumbeat and string-laden 'Later' staring as one of the album's highlights, but at no point does the album sound forced or rushed or simply bad - it's just that they can only get so close to the bar set by these first tracks. On the more downbeat 'Joker's Son' and the slightly melodramatic 'The Man Who Owns The Place' and 'Do Not Claim Them Anymore' the group's venture into darkness leaves a sombre mood, but it is one that fits in well to the journey that is Rats. These tracks, although somewhat more removed from the overall mood of the album, never feel isolated from the album - which is a whimsical forty minutes of folksy, genre-splitting pop done right (unlike the dubiously successful Mumford and Sons who fail at every attempt to make anything remotely as interesting or accomplished as Balthazar have done on either of their two releases). Rats never runs out of ideas and even towards the end, with the string-laden 'Listen Up' the album still has the ability catch hold of you and really appreciate the exemplary song-writing skills of the Belgians.
Rats is a grand gesture from the brainchild of two former buskers and it is potentially the catalyst for what would be a deserved rags to riches story. It's a shame to think that were the band from the UK, then they may be in contention to achieve enormity within a relatively short period of time. Yet their Flemish background may just be the key to what could be a long, enduring and eventful career for the group as they may eventually achieve the same cult status bestowed on fellow Belgians dEUS. With mainland Europe already within their grips, surely the rest of the world will follow soon enough? With Rats, the group have convincingly laid claim to greater things at least.
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