It’s a testament to the
better angels of global culture that a bunch of music geeks in
Vancouver can grow up to make worldly, magisterial, boldly contoured
pop together. And it’s a testament to the better angels of The Salteens
that, after a decade as a band and seven years after establishing indie
label-of-love Boompa Records, they’ve crafted an album defined by both
precision and heart.
Grey Eyes nods towards sophisticated ’60s European and American pop
constructionists (Gainsbourg, Bacharach, the other Scott Walker) and
brass-tacks workmanlike hit-makers of yore (Tin Pan Alley, the Brill
Building), while acknowledging transformative pop heirs from the ’70s
and ’80s (Godley & Crème, The Smiths). Yet far from being a mash-up
of influences, Grey Eyes captures the freshness that
marked the dawn of popular music and periodically renews it — no matter
what hurts and indignities pop songs are woven from, a transcending
embrace of possibility remains a genre fundamental.
Salteens’ songwriter Scott Walker had a lot of grief to give to Grey Eyes:
the passing of his father, and witnessing his mother’s struggle with
Alzheimer’s, leaving him on the threshold of assuming the terrifyingly
adult roles of caretaker-of-memory and maker-of-the-future; navigating
the dashed expectations and broken promises of grown-up life in this
crazily uncertain era; and, most of all, committing the brave acts of
love that can be as painful as they are redeeming.
Nevertheless, the pop law holds: the lower the lows, the higher the highs. And so it is that Grey Eyes
— polished, crisp, sprightly, and architecturally realized — is a
sublime and energetic continuation of a catalogue launched with The
Salteens’ award-winning debut Short-Term Memories (endearing Records, 2000), deepened on their 2003 college radio chart-topper Let Go of Your Bad Days (raison d’être for Boompa) and this spring’s tantalizingly silence-breaking EP Moths, and further developed over years of globetrotting tours and performances (did you catch them on Yo Gabba Gabba?).
The Salteens — some of them friends for decades, and almost all
steeped in formal training, including Walker and his BA in Music —
approached their long-awaited follow-up as a celebration of shared
experience and technical mastery. Eschewing guitars to fashion Grey Eyes
solely from stunning brass arrangements, gleaming choral melodies, and
other deft orchestrations, the band has crafted an impeccably burnished
album that disputes the silly notions that ‘indie’ equals ‘ramshackle’
and pop is inconsequential.
by Mary Christa O’Keefe