Airless Midnight

Eszter Balint

Red Herring Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Ludwik Wodka


Even if this album stood as the lone testimony to the talents of Eszter Balint, it would have heralded the emergence of fascinating talent. However, this album is only one of many, many impressive accomplishments of the Hungarian-born artist. She explains that her “artistic education was first and foremost formed by growing up in an extended family of avant-garde theater makers, originally from Hungary, who created adventurous, surprising works and devoted their lives to taking artistic risks.”

In addition to her music, she has also appeared in several films as well as guest spot on the television show my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Louie, in which she plays a violinist. With that in mind, I was expecting the whole thing to feature the violin heavily throughout, but it did not. The violin is used sparingly and tastefully. This whole effort was a master class in the philosophy of “less is more.” The backing band of seasoned veterans, which includes Marc Ribot, Dave Schramm, Chris Cochrane, and others, yields a tight but lean arrangement. They add just enough to serve to highlight Balint’s singing, which draws comparisons to PJ Harvey and Patti Smith.

The lyrics speak of a hushed after-hours world of an urban nighthawk’s world that is both intimate and mysterious. Recurring themes of quiet and night (“Calls At 3AM,” “Lullaby For Tonight, Lullaby For No One,” “Silence”) are offset with images of personal loss and even violence. For example, in the opening track “The Mother,” she writes “Her figure rose out of the mist/ A mother looking for her boy among the hostages / Make no mistake, not one mistake / That wasn’t just killing for killing’s sake.”

“Let’s Tonight It” is one of the highlights on the album, wielding her violin to great effect, adding tension to the track with its dissonant glissandos. On the other hand, the same violin softens the menacing guitar riff at the end of “The Trouble You See.” Other highlights include the haunting melody of “Departure Song” and the soothing “Silence (After The Phonecall),” with just Balint accompanied by a piano.

The songs all work together very well in evoking a darkly beautiful late-night world, populated with mysterious lonesome people. The musicianship is sharp and restrained. I must admit that it took a bit for me to warm up to Airless Midnight, but once it grew on me, I was really drawn to it. The closer you listen, the more you appreciate the detail and care that went into it. I see why Louis C.K. was so enchanted!

Rating: B+

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