Photo: Maria Kanevskaya

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP ‘Sacred Mirror’

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Sacred Mirror
Aalok Bala
23 October 2020

In the sprawling rainforest of electronica that opens up the album, Aalok Bala (short for Balachandran) finds something definitively human: connection. The LA-based Chilean artist takes on many roles throughout her second EP — the congregant chanting from their pew, la bruja casting a hex to dreamland, the star-gazer pining for moonlit romance. But on “body of light”, her voice becomes both a machete cutting through the sonic thicket and a caress of intimate memories. “Like a sea grows with water,” she sings amidst the simulated noise of cicadas and wind chimes. “No need to explain.”

These contradictions lie at the heart of Sacred Mirror. On “sueño”, the closest Bala gets to rehashing her 2018 debut album, Rebirth (namely, the instrumentation of “Planets”), dreams (the English translation) are not a powered-off state of rest, but one of sitar psychedelia and heightened consciousness. The myth of the separation between people and nature falls apart, the two entities consummated into one with whispering sensuality: “Quiero ser como agua”; “I want to be like water.”

“moon juice”, on the other hand, is thin rather than surround-sound, with a music video that could give Terrence McKenna 30 minutes of new lecture material. Lightweight percussion and a zero-gravity bass line orbit around Bala’s cosmic falsetto and churns loopy intoxication into spiritual enlightenment (“Going to elevate to the higher heights in me”). For Bala, the most profound moments of life come during the absence of it: in the solitude of sleep and space.

When form does match content, the results are equally — if not more — mesmerizing. A masterclass in word-painting, “crystal” creates a diamond in real-time; drip-drop trickles pour out into rainstick stream sounds, rippling synths refract into chandelier shimmers. “I am, I am in a fight to live and not to die,” her voice lingering and determined to survive before vibrating from the high-pressure intensity of a UK garage tremor.

There’s a creaking emptiness and desperation left over (“How long till you reach out?”), threatening to sink into silence and end the song abruptly. But the cycle restarts, and Bala comes out more resilient on the other side: “Open my eyes to read the lines and realize my faith, I stand amazed.” From the ashen trenches of Earth’s crust rises an angelic aleatory of Bala’s voice, the sound of pure coruscation.

Whereas “crystal” was driven by an ethos of diametric maximalism, “the hive” strives for a more reserved sublimity that, at times, teeters on the brink of stasis. Amidst the chirps and chitter of synthesized insects, she contemplates the intertwined fate of human- and animal-kind, and ultimately comes away with hope, “I know we can sustain”. Synths drone beneath Bala’s voice, acting as ambient lighting, but when caution enters the mix, the setting swells with tension, the melody ascends into a scatting climax, and the lyrics turn into a dictum, “Don’t go too far where nothing can save you”. Liberation, it seems, comes in acknowledging limitations — of passivity, of the environment, of the individual — and peace, in the unity of a hymn.

Of all six songs on Bala’s gamut-running EP though, “alone with the night” is somehow the most bare, yet — at the same time — atmospheric, an amalgamation of Tei Shi’s melismatic sumptuosity and KAINA‘s pensive celistiality. Church-reverb acoustics accentuate empty space while Bala croons for love in spoken-word cadences and “Nobody”-adjacent repetition: “I need you, I need you…You move me, you move me.”

Two subjects, blanketed by the same sky, staring up at the same moon, memories of each other ebbing and flowing like the tidal synths in the background. If Sylvia Plath were alive today, she would write the scene off as a delusion, a poetic line composed of “liars“. But in Bala’s eyes, the night is not a simple mirror, “silver and exact”; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

RATING 8 / 10