GEN F: Balam Acab

Photographer Nicola Turner
August 23, 2011

Alec Koone produced one of the year’s most exciting full length debuts, but he doesn’t really want to talk about it. “I think the most important thing that I want to say about the record is I don’t want to say anything at all,” he says. “I just want people to listen to it.” Recorded as Balam Acab, appropriately named after the Mayan demigod responsible for creating rainbows, Koone’s Wander/Wonder is subtle, wave after textured wave of rising square synths and big bass escorting an impressive collection of nature noises. Snare hits pair with sampled chains rattling and ping-ponging drips of cave water; later, he mixes a bird taking off with the sound of an avalanche breaking. Despite the song’s overwhelmingly organic tone, suggesting heavily-flanneled field recording sessions in the bush, Koone dangling perilously from mossy rocks to stretch his microphone under a waterfall, the entire album was recorded in the suburban Pennsylvania bedroom where he grew up. Taking leave from Ithaca College, Koone holed up in his parents’ house, piecing together Wander/Wonder’s woodsy biosphere with Creative Commons clips he found online, drawing in stomping bass lines with his mouse and playing all the notes on his computer keyboard.

Released by gloomy electronic mecca Tri Angle, the British label founded by 20 Jazz Funk Greats blogger Robin Carolan, Wander/Wonder can crawl, unveiling itself so patiently at times the record feels aimless. It’s a bit like talking to Koone, who explains the album’s complexity with charming imprecision. “If you’re like, Okay, I’m going to make a list in my head of what sounds are going on and what is objectively happening sonically, it would be like, Okay, this is kind of weird-sounding music.” But underneath layers of abstraction lies a surprisingly familiar core, ripe with pretty female vocal snippets and short bursts of string melodies, a buried pop sensibility that has propelled Koone to a degree of commercial exposure uncommon among tight-lipped bedroom producers. In February, a song from his first EP soundtracked a L’Oreal ad starring Beyoncé, and, in March, the actress Ellen Page told Entertainment Weekly Balam Acab was on her iPod. Baby steps toward proper fame, to be sure, but this progression into a collective conscious suggests mainstream receptiveness to Koone’s brand of intentionally faceless, almost anti-celebrity sound. “It was just really weird,” he says. “I came home and I had an email like, L’Oreal wants you to use your song in a commercial, and it’s like, Ah, that’s really weird. I was like, Oh, um, okay. I like Beyoncé a lot, so that’s cool.”

After releasing the first single off Wander/Wonder on Twitter in June, an impressively polite Koone spent the day sending thank you tweets to everyone who shared the track, ranging from fans with 30 followers to an indie-powerhouse array of immediate supporters that included public radio favorites The Antlers (“wow this new @thebalamacab track is seriously beautiful… can’t wait for this record”) and reverent, non-affiliated industry heads like Rough Trade’s Spencer Hickman (“the @thebalamacab album is astonishing”). Then, in a sly tip of his hat, Koone tweeted the track to @EllenPage.

Stream: Balam Acab, Wander/Wonder

GEN F: Balam Acab