Bailiff's Red Balloon has been a long time coming. It was back in 2008 that the Chicago band released their introductory EP Mm Hmm, a four-track set of slow-burning indie rock with a raw, bluesy edge that, combined with their tight live shows, succeeded in getting plenty of people interested. After such a long gap from EP to full-length any band would have to deliver something extra special to make the wait pay off, and Bailiff don't disappoint on Red Balloon. Having spent most of 2010 working with engineer Beau Sorenson (Sparkle Horse, Death Cab for Cutie) and producer Jon Alvin (Wax on Radio, Dr Manhattan), the band didn't just create an extended version of Mm Hmm; the bluesy burn is still there, but the basic sound has been built upon and fleshed out into something that's even better.
The instrumental "Crickets" lets us know immediately that we're in for something stretching beyond what we might have expected. It's a dramatic, two-minute track introducing an exotic flair that runs through some of what follows, including the superb "In the Reverie" and "Everyday Fire." These songs have a cool hypnotic groove that combines with the tribal percussion of Ren Mathew and solid hooks for what could be the band's strongest material to date - or at least their most accessible. "Eventually" is another highlight early in the album, standing out by suddenly bringing in a great, memorable second melody during its final two minutes.
One of Mm Hmm's tracks, "Emptied Out," has been given new life here; it sounds cleaner than its previous incarnation, but its propulsive beat and intense atmosphere haven't lost any power. They have actually been made more captivating. Later, rollicking stomper "When I Leave You Will Stay" comes in as a very welcome surprise that doesn't sound like anything else on the record; it's perfect for belting along to with frontman Josh Siegel (whose vocal performance should be noted; it's really strong throughout the entire album - something else that didn't stand out as much to me before). Red Balloon ends with the low-key, acoustic "Little by Little." Here, they expand their sound even further by dialing it back in a direction that works well in closing out the record.
Sometimes taking your time pays off. Red Balloon is proof of that. Anyone who got on the Bailiff train early on will likely find themselves wanting to champion the band even more after hearing this LP, and anyone who has yet to check them out shouldn't waste any time diving in.
Bailiff will release 'Red Balloon' on Saturday, June 4th with a headlining show at Lincoln Hall. You can listen to one of the tracks, "Everyday Fire," below and a few more here. Also, check out our Q&A with Josh Siegel from a while ago.
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