Saltland: I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us

I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us is a preternaturally assured debut album from Rebecca Foon under the Saltland name. The Montreal-based cellist, also a founding member of Esmerine and former member of Thee Silver Mt. Zion and Set Fire To Flames, is joined by a stellar supporting cast—saxophonist Colin Stetson (Bon Iver) and guitarist Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire) are but two of many contributors—but it's very much Foon's show: at no time does it feel as if her clear vision is compromised by the presence of others, and one comes away from the thirty-eight-minute album more than a little impressed by her arranging, performing (vocal and instrumental), and composing talents.

Two others did figure significantly into the album's creation, however: Mark Lawson, who helped Foon record and mix the songs at Six Saint V, her apartment studio in Montreal; and percussionist Jamie Thompson, Foon's primary musical collaborator on the recording. Both Lawson and Thompson are partially responsible for helping shape the album's natural tone, one that manages to feel both intimate and epic. Foon herself strikes a similar kind of balance: as a vocalist and instrumentalist, she's obviously the central presence, yet at the same time her cello playing functions as one sound (albeit an integral one) within a larger mix built from guitar, bass, harp, dulcimer, and pump organ, among other sounds.

The album includes eight timeless incantations wherein Foon's voice emerges from the strings-laden mist like a siren breathing into one's ear. Despite the expansiveness of a luscious arrangement that finds electronic programming rubbing shoulders with strings and saxophone, the tremulous opener “Golden Alley,” for example, is the kind of song that could have been born a hundred years ago, and much the same could be said of “Treehouse Schemes,” “ICA,” and “Unholy.” Hushed vocals drift through many songs, but there are also instrumental settings of plaintive and haunting character (e.g., “But It Was All Of Us”). 

A few aggressive moments arise, such as occurs when the bluster of Stetson's sax surfaces amidst the tumult of “I Thought It Was Us,” but for the most part I Thought It Was Us But It Was All Of Us opts for a kind of chamber folk-styled restraint that's nevertheless potent. Though echoes of ambient-drone, shoegaze, and primitive folk emerge, none do so to any dominating degree. Crafted with immense care, Foon's recording eschews dramatic dynamic contrasts for a subtler brand of entrancement and features music of integrity refreshingly free of affectation or trendiness.

May 2013