Later this month, The Ballroom Thieves will be releasing their debut album, A Wolf in the Doorway. What is immediately striking about the group is the difficulty in classifying them. Modern music is increasingly straining against the bonds of genre classifications, and many bands do not fit comfortably even within precise sub-genres. Featuring acoustic and electric elements that come out to varying degrees across their music, The Ballroom Thieves’ lineup includes a cellist and a percussionist – a djembe was one of the first instruments they had when they were still a duo operating out of a dorm room. The vocals are no less diverse; as with Broken Social Scene and The Civil Wars, both male and female voices are prominent.
Discussing themselves, the trio builds common ground from their musical roots, giving birth to “a captivating mélange of acoustic styles, blending folk conventions with modern hymnals, delta blues grit with rich harmonies, exploring the basic constructions of pop music while almost wholeheartedly rejecting its restrictions at the same time.” This certainly bears out in the album. A quick listen to the lead singer’s voice immediately recalls Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons, but the deeper folk influences are more clearly reminiscent of The Civil Wars or the Avett Brothers. Rich lyrical composition and vocal-instrumental interplay conjures up Iron & Wine. Yet the diversity of instrumental focus (including the percussive, acoustic, electric, and orchestral) perhaps surpasses any of these. For a band that has been producing music for only five years and is only just now releasing its first album, such a range is quite impressive.
No less masterful are the lyrical complexity and musical quality at work. As with much modern indie folk music, themes can be hard to pin down, but evoke a sense of contented isolation intermingling with tumultuous relationships and soulful questing. The listener is at once the audience to a band of traveling storytellers and a participant passenger on the journey. Answers to life’s questions are right out in the open, but as tough to crack as a buckeye. Lines like “you are the queen and I am the wolf” defy us to attempt interpretation. Perhaps the most telling song of the set is “Oak,” which is almost precisely split in half between a bittersweet, lyrical acoustic number and a melancholy cello-led serenade. “Oak” litters tantalizing images of bottles on the ocean floor, emotions and experiences personified, and the most human of struggles all at once – but these are left far from resolved as the soul in the strings shreds simple understandings of theme.
A Wolf in the Doorway will be released on April 21. Preorders are available on their website.