BY JOHN SCHACHT
There’s a tendency is music deemed “dreamy” to rely solely on melody and pacing to recreate that mood, as though it were a single static entity rather than the multi-dimensional state of being it’s comprised of. That is decidedly not the case with the debut from Rebecca Foon, the cellist in chamber pop group Esmerine and ex-member of Thee Silver Mt. Zion.
Blending lo-fi analog intimacy and judicious electronic elements, the eight tracks of Foon’s Saltland project – primarily Foon on cello and Jamie Thompson providing programming and percussion – teem with lush textures that instead conjure all manner of dream states in an LP made for late-night listening.
Foon’s cello, of course, plays a key role throughout via its adaptable sonority, one comprised of a commanding percussive presence as well as its better-known rich and melancholic indigo tone. But it’s by no means the limelight-stealer. Thompson’s beats and percussion, and the signal processing he and co-producer Marc Lawson (Arcade Fire) apply, saturate and refract (often simultaneously) the sonic atmospheres to marvelous effect.
The slinky bassline of opener “Golden Alley” (reprised in closer “Hearts Mend”) sets a tone that balances multi-layered cello and violin loops against Thompson’s cut-and-paste beats and the ambient whirs and ticks. The results intersect at drone-like trance and dream-pop minimalism, like a more subdued Strange Cargo III-era William Orbit or more organic Portishead. Foon’s hushed vocals even seem to glide between the two Beths — Orbit’s croaking whisper and Gibbons’ torch-like yearning —to add to the subconscious pull of the music.
That’s just one of dream-like quality Foon’s compositions explore. The meticulously crafted “Treehouse Schemes” floats arpeggio guitar and breathy bass flute atop a bassline that ascends and recedes as though in and out of focus, while Foon’s whisper and elegiac cello trade turns with the melody to create something that would suit Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden modal tripping. On “Unholy,” processed signals create a droning underwater atmosphere without ever suffocating Foon’s subtle but rock-solid melodic sense, while the cello chases just behind her hymnal voice and the tension builds through an insistent double-time beat. Angst-filled dreams, too, are part of the night.
The erstwhile title-track combo conjures two more distinct soundscapes. Overlapping violin and cello parts create a middle Eastern-tinged melody on “I Thought It Was Us,” which eventually coalesce into a dramatic crescendo fired by Colin Stetson’s explosive sax skronk, a heart-pounding nightmare incarnate. On the flip side, “But It Was All Us” sounds like a western sunrise with hymn-like voices drifting over lush, low-end guitar arpeggios. Those elements then morph into a cello melody line that draws cirrus puffs in the sky and eventually dissolves into ambient fuzz. By the end you’re reminded of the fleeting nature of different skylight and, in keeping with Foon’s themes of transience and lost innocence, our brief time here.
You may hear more immediate LPs this year, but few will likely surpass the beauty Foon and friends have created here.
DOWNLOAD: “Golden Alley,” “Treehouse Schemes”