Led by cellist Rebecca Foon (of Esmerine, Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire To Flames), ‘I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us’ is a transfixing debut from the just born Saltland.
Jamie Thompson (also of Esmerine) joins Foon in the subtle use of signal processing, and the somewhat less subtle use of percussion. Their debut together is an intricate, ghost-thin spider-web that fuses many different musical genres into one – the only element they share is they all fall under the dark of night. Beautifully arranging the musical strands together with caring fingertips, Saltland effectively link these many stylistic thoughts until they are left as one, dark entity living amongst the corners of thin, silver threads. At the centre of the web lies the pulse of percussion and Foon’s ever-emotional cello. Dark scents, left smoked by the last slivers of the sunshine, are apparent at once; when the fireball retreats, it’s playtime.
The first couple of seconds feature nothing but percussion, and this, as a vibration sends a trail of alarm to the predator, is important to note. Saltland place rhythmic assertion above the traditional, modern-classical sound, where a drum-beat is close to heresy. Electronic bass-lines are syncopated alongside the drums, and when the husky, light feminine vocals enter, the piece begins to transform into a song; a clear and important difference. As soon as the first syllables are uttered and the vocals are added, the slinky, already frail eyelashes of modern-composition fall by the wayside, and the sound is transformed, powerfully, into something that resembles a corner of dusky folk-pop. Trail-blazing a way through the entire record, the electronic drums propel an otherwise extremely melancholic, heart-tearing cello and the theater that she brings. Just as original as this is, the percussion also slightly arcs our emotional expectations, running along a new curvature where the otherwise sombre cello can now raise an uplifting hint of a smile and, inside her drama, become inspired for change – a result that is completely unexpected, given the cello’s past background. A lot of effort has gone into percussive prominence, and the subsequent rhythmic drive and flair increases what is already captivating music. The cello is never, ever lost, nor is any one instrument favoured – they all circle each other in a swirling mass of evening dusk.
You may not always tend to think of cello and percussion hanging out together, or even as a tight friendship. They’re from two very different sides of the musical tracks, separated by classical and pop, the studious and the aggressive rebel. It might not seem to work out on paper, but Saltland make them resolve their differences with a ‘we can work it out’ mantra. Saltland prove that, once united and over shy restrictions, the couple can quite easily provide and fulfil a fruitful, perfect harmony. Opposites attract; they may be soul-mates after all.
A plethora of guest artists grace the pale light, but instead of entangling the sound with differing phrases or thoughts, the individual artistic persona or presence is removed, allowing this dim light to shine directly upon the music. This makes all the difference. Everything feels tightly laced; there’s no constriction or indulgence among the blossom of talent. It is a flickering light, cast in Montreal and travelling across the oceans, but it still shines over the long distance. The strings vibrate their own bleak auras. ‘I Thought It Was Us’ is the first proper encounter with any real forward motion, and the jazz-tinted, experimental sound that shoots out of the cymbals creates a sound that is frenzied, a victim falling to the shield in an act that is almost psychotic. A quiet, yet determined source of inner strength mirrors the carnage, coming in the form of Foon’s dark cello, wrought in conflict with the enemy.
Saltland’s music enacts out a vague land of idyllic fantasy, one that is soaked in the surreal and where all is not as it appears; their music is a slice of paradise dissected by dark, foreboding alleys and dim lighting. No more is this mirror image apparent than in ‘Treehouse Schemes’, where the lonesome vocal is but lukewarm, and the undercurrent of bass, timpani and melodic cello lines feel decidedly cooler than usual, to the point of being frigid and icy. Influences of folk and dusky psychedelia move to the fore, swaying rhythmically and hypnotically, until your eyes start to feel a little sleepy. Black shadows – both musical and physical – appear out of the corners of the eye, adding to an increasing sense of paranoia infused with the pull of temptation. Swirling through at her own pace, the music almost becomes a cautious meditation filled with reserves of venom, snaking through the brush of the strings like a serpent searching for prey and looking to strike.
Her vocal delivery swoons over the deeper cello, sweetly counteracting hope with despair. In what would normally be considered an unholy marriage between the classically-minded cello and the relatively modern advances of electronic music, ‘Unholy’ proves the point earlier made that, instead of becoming something awkward and constricted, has the ability to change into quite the opposite – the instruments enjoy each other’s company, and they’ve been separated for far too long. Saltland are here to change your preconceptions, and as they do so, they break new musical ground. It isn’t earth-shattering, but then again some of the most important moments in history are the ones that gradually unfold over time and only climax when they’ve completed their purpose.
Sharp, jangling percussive sections make way for a cleanly played, delicate electric guitar, swooping in, out, over and under the lush vocals. Lyrically, sighs of understatement set the primary tone. Foon’s vocals are patient and deliberate – they’re never rushed or shouted out from the rooftops. They’re cautiously optimistic and always intelligent, and rather than sticking out as an unfavoured distraction, Foon’s vocals add another amazing splash of faded colour to the atmosphere of an already veiled shade. ‘But It Was All Of Us’ acts as the relaxing centre, reclining in the spinning spiral, where the cello, dusted in echoes, comes into her own and quietly embraces us all. Instead of fighting against steel and against body, it’s a pleasure to be caught. The fairy-tale that is ‘Colour The Night Sky’ could have been pulled out of an old, open European chapter dealing with the slightly twisted, yet meaningful folk-tale morals of long-ago, where pixie mysteries come to life and fresh, tinkerbell-decorated wings that had previously lay dormant take flight, metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly shaded with charcoal scribbles, while ‘Hearts Mend’ thumps a muted thunder at regular intervals; a subdued beating that is always there, just out of sight.
I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us sparkles with an amazing amount of courage. Saltland aren’t afraid to try something new, which sadly isn’t the universal code. Enwrapped by fate, Saltland, in the space of a debut release, have perfected the art of intricate, musical design.