The Becalming by Veldhans is an elegant, charming record that is both dignified and casual. The mostly-instrumental record leans heavily on acoustic guitar, drums, violin, accordion, whistling, samples, and unusual instruments like sáo bầu to create a sound both unusual and comforting. Unusual tunes like “Big Z,” “De Laatkomer” and “Sunburn” sound like magic portals to places around the world. The klezmer-esque accordion and rhythms of “Big Z” make me feel like I’m in Eastern Europe, while the legato accordion of “De Laatkomer” meshes with gentle guitar and swooping violin to give a more Parisian vibe. The windswept, slightly ominous “Sunburn” feels like uniquely-warped Eastern Asian meditation music. “Get Straight” is a dissonant, eclectic set of sounds led by a spoken word clip about community dancing that seems to try mashing up both the Eastern European and the Eastern Asian influences. It is the most adventurous of the pieces here; your mileage may vary.
The comforting tunes point in a more homey direction. “Oneohone” is a calm rumination that meshes ektara, dan bau, gently hammered melodic percussion, subtle percussion, guitar, and field recordings of natural night sounds elegantly. The whistled melody at the end of the piece is the perfect cap on a lovely, lilting piece. “When Peace Comes” is right what it says on the tin: a peaceful bit of softly picked acoustic instruments, intertwined in smooth and relaxing ways. This is late-night back-porch picking at its finest: people doing what they do for the love of the beauty they can create. “Down River” is similarly relaxing, with accordion and more night sounds providing the accompaniment. I like “When Peace Comes” more, but “Down River” is suitably lovely as well.
The standout track brings these two arms of the album together. The title track is peaceful but also enigmatic, as the rhythm of the lead melody is developed by a processed spoken word audio clip; the clip is either not in English or English processed so greatly that the clip is non-linguistic-content-bearing and simply musical. This syncopated lead clip plays over gentle guitar, low-key percussion, and humming. The first three minutes of the six minute track are kind of like if a folk song got turned into a lo-fi hip-hop beat. It brings together the unusual and the pleasant tidily, giving the listener the pleasant feeling of new and old at the same time. Then there’s a ambient interlude before the mood of the song switches into a smooth, dusky, legato coda.
The Becalming is a beautiful and unusual album. People who like The Album Leaf’s melodic and dissonant work will find much to appreciate, as Veldhans brings both together on a single album. Those interested in the new and exciting should check out “The Becalming” and “Get Straight.” There is much to love in this thoughtful, well-done album, and I look forward to more VeldHans music.