By Christopher Nosnibor
For those who require an introduction, Eszter Balint’s background is certainly interesting: born in Budapest in 1966, her career began early as a part of the Squat Theatre troupe, before transitioning from avant-garde theatre to cinema. While predominantly working in indie cinema, she appeared in Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog and Steve Buscemi’s Trees Lounge. Her credits also include Miami Vice, but recent years have seen her focus on music (albeit with some time out for painting), playing with Michael Gira’s Angels of Light during Swans’ hiatus.
Airless Midnight, her third album, sounds nothing like Angels of Light, but that’s by no means a criticism, and what’s more, she’s drawn on her connections to feature the guitar work of Chris Cochrane (John Zorn, Zena Parkins, long time EB alumni) Dave Schramm (The Schramms, Yo La Tengo, others) and Marc Ribot on this album.
So, never mind what it isn’t: what it is, is a tidy collection of songs, adventurous and varied in style, but largely straight-ahead, stripped-back and direct in execution. Holistically, Airless Midnight is a magnificently realised work of sassy, slinky pop that incorporates elements of post-punk and folk.
‘Let’s Tonight It’ brings the sharp-edged savvy of early PJ Harvey – something of a touchstone artist for the album as a whole – together with a driving punky, no-wave sound. ‘All You Need’ has a swagger and just enough grit, but amidst the tumultuous percussion there’s a well-crafted piece of songsmithery.
The latter portion of the album brings some mellower moments, with the slower, simple ‘Exit at 63’ bringing the atmosphere, and the piano-led ‘Silence After the Phone Call’ brings a more sedate yet ultimately brooding tone. Closer ‘Lullaby for Tonight, Lullaby for No-One’ nabs the chord sequence for Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ and sculpts them into an intimate slow-burner which rounds off an album that feels like an album – and a good one at that.