Hera Jackson, aka Balkanist Discourse, invites us into their sonic alternate universe where theatrical melodies and a smorgasbord of instruments and genres show us the line is paper thin between music/art and the thing we are fighting for deep inside. After chatting about their music nearly two years ago, Hera and I had the chance to reconnect and dive into all that has happened and changed since.
Since we last spoke, Hera changed their name and started their hormone journey. Choosing a sober lifestyle, Hera thoroughly enjoys the ongoing joke of whipping out a white pill on the dancefloor amongst friends when it’s time to take their daily estrogen. This warmth and ability to laugh was eminent through my entire conversation with such a kind and creative soul. Hera has a way of stripping concepts of any projected sternness, while not sacrificing their empathy and intelligence towards important conversations around mental health, gender expression, and more. I mean, look at their artist name: Balkanist Discourse. “I love that it’s unapproachable and unrelatable. I’m a huge international relations nerd,” shares Hera. But though the name may have a literary and academic background, listening to Hera speak about it was charming and relatable, mirroring their humble attitude towards their highly impressive musical skills. These skills are put on outright display in their third album:Last Dance.
Diving into the Music
Their first track ‘Stagnant’ draws us in immediately while teasing us that something will soon change. By a minute and a half in, we’ve crossed over, suddenly feeling like we’re in a full-on chase similar to what you’d see in a heist movie. Thinking back to the lyrics you heard at the beginning… “Intimacy feels so immeasurable. Can’t we just be ourselves?” We’re reminded of how far a thought can take us. Then, we’re introduced to ‘Mandy,’ a much more low-key groove. Hera’s vocals are extremely passionate and whole-hearted throughout.
Other songs I can’t get enough of are ‘Melancholy Love’ and ‘Last Dance.’ ‘Melancholy Love’ opens with grand piano before a chorus of Hera’s vocals cut through. The piano remains a heavy hitter throughout the track, welcoming a gag-worthy guitar entrance about one minute in. ‘Last Dance’ has a bossa nova feel and Hera slays vocals to match the style, steadily sliding up and down from low notes to their higher register.
After absorbing the album as a whole, I feel similarities to Queen and Fun!, maybe even a modern-day Queer Ben Folds 5. Hera mentions they often notice transness in music assumed to fall under certain genres but Hera wants you to know their music is very trans and music in general exists beyond gender, making it inherently trans. Another way Hera achieves this is by incorporating color and adventure in their music. You can feel the sense of a roller coaster or journey in each song through flavorful vocal shifts and cosmic instrumental solos.
“I don’t want to hear the reality that I live every day. I want to hear what could be.” Escaping from the 9 to 5 life via music is a savior to Hera.
Hera themself is responsible for 90% of the album, with lead and background vocals, bass, drums, and excels at guitar which they’ve played for around 20 years. Other contributing musicians that helped the album bloom include: Matt Blocher, Joe DeAngelo, Sam Ramirez, Ace, Zachary Finnegan, Sam Bryson, Eric Meftah, Mark Lesser, and Ben Woolgar.
Keep up with Hera/Balkanist Discourse on Instagram.