Koone took to Twitter to point out some of what's different about his new process, which involved far less sampling, lots of live vocals and his own guitar playing. Of course, growth and change are good things, but Child Death is more an album of awkward growing pains than a complete metamorphosis. Singers are timid and obscured, guitars sound spindly and basic, drums often feel stiff and mixes can verge on overcrowded. (On that note, kudos to Sam Haar of Blondes for mixing "ANDIWILLTELLU" into something that mostly makes sense.) Where Koone hasn't faltered is melody, and to his credit, Child Death is propped up on more than a handful of gorgeous passages.
Which is to say there is good, maybe even powerful music within Child Death's dense 32 minutes. "Glory Sickness" and "Spent Lives" echo the rich, choral beauty of Wander / Wonder in places, though the former also dabbles in faux-black metal and indie, while the latter boldly encroaches on Rival Dealer's block. For its intro, "Underwater Forever" floats in bubbles, harps, hymns, birdsong and other heavenly arrangements, but soon gives way to blast beats, squealing synth and fuzzy power chords. It's actually one of Child Death's most coherent (and best) songs, which says something about the amount of ideas Koone crams into each track. The trancey, orchestral breakdown in the third quarter of "ANDIWILLTELLU" is among his best work, but he ditches it to end on a whiny, four-chord plod. For every part you love in Child Death, there could be one just around the corner ready to subvert it.
There's a clear reason why Koone has reimagined his sound: he wants Balam Acab to be a live band. Touring was kind of an afterthought when he wrote Wander / Wonder. This time, instead of retrofitting his music with live instruments, Koone spun them into Child Death from the start. "Do Death" was written and recorded "from scratch," using only real performances and zero samples. It understandably doesn't sound much like any other Balam Acab song, draped instead with Radiohead's lulling, guitar-borne mysticism and synthy psychedelia. It's nice, actually, and might even make you wish Koone hadn't relegated the idea to a quick four minutes. But the other live touches don't come off as naturally, even sounding amateurish at times. They're the stark, mediocre reality of an adolescent band waking us from the lush, wide-eyed dreamscapes Koone has always enchanted with.