Saltland – I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us | Album Review | By Volume

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I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us

A magnificently atmospheric album with nothing to propel it forwards.

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Author: on May 20, 2013
May 14, 2013

The word “careful” comes to mind when listening to the debut from Rebecca Foon’s Salt Land project. I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us is clearly the work of a talented musician with a well refined compositional style. Foon, who might be better known for her cello work with Set Fire to Flames, Esmerine, and Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Whatever They’re Called Now, shows patience with her work here; a well-defined palate sets out to craft a very particular kind of mood and atmosphere. And to her credit, Foon certainly excels at capturing these kinds of moods—the dreary, and vaguely apocalyptic wanderings that highlight the best moments of Thee Silver Mt. Zion are definite echoes. The production from Mark Lawson, who has worked with Arcade Fire and recently mixed and produced the incredible new Colin Stetson record, magnificently captures the timbre and enhances the acoustic atmosphere, letting each guitar pluck, cello bow, and all other sorts of bells and whistles ring just that little bit longer. So, yes, “careful” comes to mind; unfortunately, so does the word “tedious.”

For all the work that Foon puts into crafting such a careful and precise album, along with percussionist Jamie Thompson and guitarist Laurel Sprengelmeyer, she seems to forget to put in the parts that make us care. Well, not entirely. There are moments where the record breaks out of the monotony; for example, “I Thought It Was Us,” easily the most invigorating and moving piece on the record, ebbs and flows with a real drive, where the droning tension of the cello intersects wonderfully with melody and climax to produce something truly stunning, aided all the while by Colin Stetson’s chillingly chaotic saxophone accompaniment. It’s no wonder that “I Thought It Was Us” remains the most convincing piece on the album. The track provides something close to catharsis because of the way the tension does not feel one-dimensional; it moves beyond cheap crescendo tactics and really pushes Foon’s ploddingly careful composition onto an entirely different level. It seems strange, then, that “I Thought it Was Us” is the second track on the album. I feel hard-pressed to remember anything else that really happens afterwards.

I am not advocating a reliance on a post-rock formula built on simple loud-soft dynamics — too much of that would really destroy the atmosphere that Foon accomplishes so well. But this album needs something to make it worth repeated listens. As her collaborator Colin Stetson continues to prove, tautological looping and repetition can work wonders. In I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us, though, the repetition and tedium doesn’t even work on a conceptual level: I don’t feel anxious while listening to the album, I don’t feel relaxed, and I don’t feel frustrated. I just don’t feel it at all. And that’s really the album’s problem, which is a shame because there’s some obvious talent at play here. Rebecca Foon shows her compositional promise at times on this record; I just hope it develops into something with a little more replay value.

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