Saltland – ‘I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us’ [Review]

Piles of salt mined by local residents sit on the surface of the world's largest salt flats, the Salar de UyuniStriking that sweet synthesis between familiarity and novelty is the first release from Rebecca Foon’s Saltland: ‘I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us’ is as solo as it gets from a member of the Montreal musical collective which spun out Set Fire to Flames and Silver Mt. Zion.  As a former member of both those groups, as well as an active participant of Esmerine and regular contributor to a number of projects you’ve heard of, Foon cannot but use the palette of Constellation records to craft this introverted work of largesse.  In many ways comparable to the still undefeated ‘Desert Farmers’ by Hannah Marcus, on which several members of ASMZ sibling-band Godspeed You! Black Emperor lend support to massively up-tick the scope and depth of the singer-songwriter compositions, Saltland’s charms are in the details of this less-hearthy, more esoteric set of, er, “contemporary” tracks – at this point hardly experimental, yet eminently tasteful if melodramatic – recalling the solo work of Stereolab’s Lætitia Sadier, with a voice even nearer to Mia Doi Todd, and elements of trip hop recalling the continentalisms of Piano Magic, the pedigrees of all involved most certainly err toward the popular (though surely the voice of public radio could read the thing entirely through analogues of modern jazz).  From the perspective of the label, the move is admirable, akin to the aging graceful of Discord, where so many other peer labels (Sub Pop, Merge) went the way of industry, or broke-in-the-woods wild (Jagjaguwar, Thrill Jockey); the members are still up front and center, the sounds changing to match their station and not vice versa.

Most commonly nominated as a cellist, Foon leaves the instrument’s fanned patterns across every track, a tension which holds the whole hulking recording on tight-rope.  Like the green-blue/blue-green hairsplitting every child has known in a box of crayons, the songs alternate more or less evenly between the former ensembles: primarily, as 5-minute ASMZ edits, rather true to form with the addition of form breaking elements from Foon’s bloodless whispers (“Unholy”), the latter-day CST staple of Colin Stetson’s saxophone (“I Thought It Was Us”), or the first quarter of an anglophiled (Toronto-fied?) slow-burner (“ICA”).  Separated from the pack, it is remarkable how central the sound of Foon’s cello is to the sound of her previous group work.  Hence the familiarity without the derivation, as poppier tracks like “Golden Alley” open many more windows in the mansion, wafting novel comparison to those latter individuals.  Stand-out “Treehouse Schemes” places a subtler form of Sadier’s political satires between melancholy strings and a cassoulet of raucous percussion, to be honest, leaving an American befuddled for want of hard, informatic meaning (the source of much GY!BE hype) while otherwise seduced by a European tragedy-in-politics.  Though a “solo” work of sorts I may be unconvincing you of, Foon does not shy from erasing with one hand what the other has rendered: dropping a heaping ten-minutes of richly-ambient sound calories in the midst of the disc, “But It Was All Of Us” broils into the rolling backbeats of “Colour the Night Sky,” where Foon’s plaintive lines are eroded in lossy effects and an anemic sawing of strings.  And here is the final component, the production of Mark Lawson, which handles with high-definition mastery this diplomacy of materials, inserting perceptual false-walls and skylights like a somber Nigel Goodrich.  Raw listeners out there may grow sugared with the excess of polish, yet I imagine the bulk of fans who read this as a RIYL keyword search will be perfectly home-warmed with this novel collection of familiar sounds.

Constellation LP/CD

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