The prodigious talented Hobart musician Ben Salter in recent years released a trilogy of recordings he did as artist in residence at the Museum Of Old and New Art (MONA) – the largest privately funded collection of art in the southern hemisphere, the last two of which we reviewed here at Backseat Mafia. Salter’s work was an eclectic mix of ambience and pop based on themes of love, loss and happiness and reflected the raw beauty and inclement weather and wild geography of lutruwita/Tasmania.
He has now released a new album entitled ‘Sublimation’ that distills the more indie pop side of his earlier trilogy, showcasing his capacity for writing shimmering melodic songs that are threaded with a dry wit, and a twisted pop sensibility. Reflecting his home, there is a recurrent aquatic element to the music and lyrics – the flow and the rhythms emulate the cold waters of the Tasman sea that salter loves to dip into.
Salter’s writing exhibits a layered instrumental intricacy and harmonies that are redolent at times of the jingle jangle sound of The Beatles with the vocal nuances of David Bowie and the power pop of XTC – a heady mix. And yet despite the influences, Salter’s style is distinct and unique, with an antipodean sheen and an raw Australian diction. He is the ultimate poet and troubadour that happens to write a damned good song in the process.
The album was recorded at Ben’s installation at MONA and then mixed in MONA’s new state of the art Frying Pan studios (complete with the very desk used by The Beatles from the Abbey Road Studios) and some tracks at Rolling On The River Studios.
The album clocks in at an impressive seventeen tracks – making it essentially an double album.
Opening track ‘Hyperlocalisation’ is contemplative with its delicate guitars and piano and Salter’s distinctive vocals – a wry observance of the state of the world, the nuances of truth and personal anxieties. Glorious harmonies frame the vocals and strings swell up, highlighting the melancholic frame.
The title track has a wonderful cacophony of sounds that opens the track and continues to bubble under the surface like a babbling brook. The instrumentation swings with a fulsome beat while Salter’s vocals draw upon the ghost of a ‘Boys Keep Swinging’ era Bowie. It has more of an indie pop vibe that his trilogy as a whole had, but still has that special visceral delivery that reflects Salter’s proficiency at songwriting and recording.
Lead guitar comes courtesy of local legend songwriter and producer Jethro Pickett.
The song was recorded late last year at Salter’s studio installation at MONA in lutruwita/Tasmania, part of an abandoned song cycle ‘Pierres’, a Band camp-only release. In his own inimitable and eloquent style, Salter says:
All the lyrics were loosely based on a Wikipedia bounce I did centred around Enceladus, who was one of the giant offspring of Gaia and Uranus and is now purportedly buried under My. Etna in Sicily. It led me to the entry for a lesser known Herman Melville novel, Pierre, that I have never read. I clicked on, gaining velocity, and ended up at French post-structuralist Jacques Lacan’s version of the psychological concept of sublimation, where most of the nonsense comes from.
Tracks like ‘Permission’ and ‘Tracksuit Not Suit’ have a swinging Bowie flow but with a Talking Heads edge. Salter’s lyrics are inflected with a dry sense of humour throughout. ‘Man o Man’ floats on glorious instrumentation – a sea of organs and funky guitars – while Salter’s vocals are almost declamatory, a stream of conscious poetry. Similarly, ‘Gig Lamps’ and ‘The Living Roman Generals’ both have a psychedelic dreamy state – ambient and ethereal with surrealist lyrics (the latter having a Pink Floyd synth sound roaming across the ether).
An electronic thrum massages the ears on the delightfully named ‘Pill Popping Bad Boy from The Middle Class’ while ‘Median Georgian Red’ is lush and funky. ‘Here Goes Nothing’ with its half spoken poetry is vast and cinematic with jangling guitars and a robust bass and aquatic synth arpeggios. ‘I Really Need To Know’ has a Peter Gabriel thrum about it it – Salter’s vocals strident and urgent.
The album ends with ‘Counting’, Salter’s double-tracked vocals to the fore in an almost surreal and discombobulating tone – yearning and melancholy with Salter’s wry delivery.
‘Sublimation’ is out now and available through all the usual download and streaming sites as well as through the link above. Salter is the middle of an extensive tour – see details below.
The Sublimation tour began with a handful of solo shows in Japan before Salter embarks on an epic drive across the Nullarbor from Perth, crossing South Australia, Victoria, ACT, NSW and QLD. He’ll be joined by multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter Jethro Pickett who’ll help flesh out arrangements of songs both new and old from Salter’s ever-expanding repertoire.
They’ll be supported by Warren Mason, songwriter and founder of Tin Camp Studios. Mason is a Yuwaalaraay man with links to the Yorta Yorta tribe; originally from Goodoga on the NSW/QLD border, he now resides, along with Pickett and Salter, in lutruwita. This will be Warren’s first national tour. The Australian component of the tour will conclude with a special co-headline show with Pavement’s Spiral Stairs at Mornington Bar Wowee Zowee, which is of course named after the Pavement album of the same name. Salter and Pickett will then head across the Tasman for a string of shows in Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Feature Photograph: Jesse Hunniford