Saltland, ‘I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us’
Over the course of listening to I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us, I found myself continually glancing back to the album’s cover art. Up close and in the distance are groups of conical salt mounds; the only notable features in a vast and otherwise lifeless expanse. Cellist Rebecca Foon – sometime member of several other Constellation Records acts, including Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Esmerine – repeatedly conjures this image throughout her elegant, understated début album under the Saltland moniker.
Album opener “Golden Alley” employs subtle percussive loops and majestic strings to invite the listener in, with Foon’s multi-tracked vocals functioning more as a rhythmic element than a lead. The focus on the interplay between Foon’s voice and her instruments lends the song a feeling of collaboration and the mood seeps through into “I Thought It Was Us”, a stately composition on which Foon is joined by Colin Stetson. The track brings to mind a journey through uncharted territory, as drums are introduced to inject a sense of urgency alongside the saxophonist’s chaotic beauty. If the listener has not been convinced by the opener, “I Thought It Was Us” is sure to engage an audience to stick around. The song’s propulsive elements juxtapose the understated cello, which acts as the musical glue holding the various pieces together.
Some of the songs on I Thought It Was Us are expansive, where multiple instruments combine to sweeping effect; yet others are so intimate that it sounds as if Foon and her band are playing right in front of you. Across the album, various shades of rock and ambient appear, but the record’s strengths lie in the moments when the music veers into orchestral pop. Naturally, this allows Foon’s vocals and cello work to shine. “Treehouse Schemes” and “Unholy” fall right near the midpoint of the album, and they are stunning showcases of her musical and vocal abilities. The former adds layers of clattering percussion, bells, and electric guitar to her strings, and “Unholy” pits acoustic guitar picking against ambient drones, building up a tension that is alleviated by the re-entry of the classical elements near the song’s end. All of these elements follow the lead of Foon’s soothing, unobtrusive vocals.
Hints of shoegaze and post-rock seep into “But It Was All of Us,” a wandering, melancholic number that leads one to return to the album art, feeling as though you’re travelling alone through that desolate space with the horizon continually sinking into the distance. Saltland makes excellent use of the juxtaposition between the expansive and the intimate, with each track traversing these two moods. At one moment we feel as if we are completely alone in an immense, unknown world; but by the next song the mood is as inviting as an intimate performance. This is not an easy tightrope to walk, but the gifted Rebecca Foon manages to knit together the sometimes chaotic elements to craft a warm, fully realized album. By the hushed closing moments of “Hearts Mend,” there is a sense of satisfaction to be had by the listener that previously unknown lands have been successfully traversed; however, the subtle, understated style of this record warrants repeat visits.
Foon has much to say with her new project, and because some of the message is quiet and restrained at times, it takes a few listens to unpack the intent of this work. Each listen will reveal elements we previously failed to connect with, but which add to the emotional impact of each song. I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us becomes more alluring and intoxicating the more time you spend with it. As the début album of a new project, Saltland is a promising start that is as much about the collective talents of its members as it is a showcase for an exciting lead voice in Rebecca Foon.