If By Yes – Salt on Sea Glass

January 01, 1970





If By Yes, the collaboration between one-woman vocal
orchestra Petra Haden and Cibo Matto’s Yuka Honda, sounds on the surface like
bright, dreamy pop. Put on the headphones, though, and complexities emerge in
unexpected chord changes, non-standard rhythms and richly layered points and
counterpoints. Haden’s soft, naturally sweet voice is, by turns, as accessible
as radio pop, as sensually shaded as vocal jazz, as intricately arranged as doo
wop, and as wild and unearthly strange as alternative vocalizers like Jarboe. She
flits through Honda’s subtle concoctions of funk, jazz, Latin, pop and rock
like a songbird through a tropical forest, a flash of color in a steamy
profusion of musical life.


Salt on Sea Glass is primarily the work of its two
principals. Honda composed the instrumental tracks in her home studio. Haden
listened as she worked and added vocal elements. Cornelius’s guitarist Hirotaka
Shimizu and drummer Yuko Araki fleshed out the sounds, Araki using a variety of
percussion instruments, from standard drum kit to hand drums to, in one case,
clay pots. Guests stopped by, including David Byrne, who sang with Haden on
“Eliza” and Nels Cline, who added guitars on the same track. Cornelius mixed
two of the tracks, adding an electro-dance sheen to “You Feel Right” and “Still


The main attraction here is how easily Haden and Honda
criss-cross the line between mannered pop and free-thinking experimentation.
“Three As Four” is well-behaved and melodic, a bit of baroque tunefulness that
just happens to be written in 6/4 time. “Imagino,” the song that produced the
album’s title, starts in a mystery of shivering cymbals, Haden’s voice
lingering over words so that begin to bloom and resonate and, with the addition
of harmonies, become an approximation of pure tone. “Salt on sea glass/shines
emeralds of the past,” she sings, in a soft dreamy tones, a ghostly high,
wordless aria slithering over the black notes between verses. There’s a
saxophone solo, a hip-shifting African cadence of hand drums, an aura of banked
heat and barely suppressed sensuality.


Later in the album, things turn a bit wilder, the carefully
metered sophistication giving way to catharsis in “Adrift” and the unnamed
final track of the album. Here, near the end, Haden lets loose with primal
ululations, careening vocally over a tumult of rock guitars and drums. “Adrift”
is, perhaps, the logical culmination for a pair of women who set up intricately
layered, lovingly constructed, logically bounded parameters for their art, then
burst through them. Exhilarating stuff.


DOWNLOAD: “Imagino,” “Three as Four” “Adrift” JENNIFER KELLY


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