There is no group quite like Biota. Led for decades by William Sharp, they are an evolving collective that produces a singular brand of abstract folk music that incorporates weird Americana, classical influences from the European continent, and a bit of avant-prog as well. Fragment for Balance, their first release in five years, consists of 26 tracks that run together, most of which are under three minutes.
With regard to instrumentation, this album does not vary greatly from past efforts. Acoustic guitar takes on a prominent role, backed by piano and other wood, reed, and string instruments, as well as an extent of processing. Kristanna Gale provides sparse vocals in a clear, lilting voice. A few tracks feature drumming. The arrangments vary from relatively minimal to deeply layered, heading in several directions contrapuntally. These latter pieces (Key Ring and Unspun being two examples) are the highlights of Fragment for Balance, as they have been on previous releases.
Beyond mechanics, Biota has always been about atmosphere. The album is melancholy throughout, exhibiting a haunting ambiance that evokes abandoned rural and industrial towns. The only emotive comparison that comes to mind is another American folk/prog group, Jack ‘O the Clock, though Biota predates them by at least 20 years. Listening to Fragment for Balance is like stepping into an alternate dimension that is a subtlely twisted and darker version of our world – one where ghosts are common and humanity is no longer the dominant species.
Ultimately, Biota is one of those few ensembles that consistently produces excellent material. This album, like any of its predecessors, is an innovative gem that will take many listenings to peel down to the core. You could lock yourself in a room for a year with nothing but the Biota catalog and never be in want of more recordings.