2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD), Cassette
On their excellent 2018 album Travel Light, the Manchester duo Children of Zeus staked their claim as the rare pop act capable of elegantly tackling grown-up subject matter. Many of its songs center on the idea of aging, but rather than relying on hamfisted sermonizing or creaky complaints, Tyler Daley and Konny Kon present everything with a tenderness and vulnerability that made each song feel distinctly lived-in.
That same sense of humanity is on display on their follow-up, Balance, which the pair largely produced themselves, and which musically operates in a mode that’s even subtler and quieter than its predecessor. As the title implies, the album is about finding a middle ground, and lyrically, its songs swing gracefully between the extremes—from the opulence of “Cali Dreams” (which includes a clever nod to 2Pac’s “California Love”) and “The Most Humblest of All Time, Ever” to the hushed brokenness of “Be Someone” and “Love Again.” Often, the back-and-forth occurs within the space of a single song: on the arresting opener “No Love Song,” Daley laments “Got the emotions of a stone, expecting me to write a love song,” and later, on “I Need You,” Daley sets up a ballad of romance that Kon then spikes with doubt: “Losing love, learning lifelong lessons/ …too proud to beg, to ashamed to assure you.” The interplay between the duo mirrors that same duality: Kon is a deeply emotive rapper with a distinctive, grainy voice, and on songs like “I Need You,” it acts as the perfect counterbalance to Daley’s lithe, elegant singing style.
But for all of that lyrical back-and-forth, what makes the album work so well is that, musically, it’s all of a piece. Like early albums by Maxwell and The Foreign Exchange, much of Balance favors low-lit, jazz and R&B arrangements, leaning on prominent, cruising basslines and sparkling keys. This makes it feel not so much like a collection of songs as a single unified suite, with different movements that surge and recede. (That it’s bookended by a pair of brief pieces titled “Sunrise” and “Sunset” only amplifies this feeling.) On high points like the title track, they hit on a crackling groove that recalls the classic era of the Soulquarians. That cohesiveness gives the album depth and richness; like Travel Light, Balance is an album unafraid to explore the complications that occur the deeper you get into life. That it handles them with such skill and sensitivity is a testament to the group’s sure hand.