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If By Yes - Salt on Sea Glass

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Artist: If By Yes

Album: Salt on Sea Glass

Label: Chimera

Review date: Mar. 22, 2011

On paper, the pairing of Petra Haden and Yuka Honda is bursting with avant-pop potential. Haden, geared with a full-bodied, jazz-infused vocal range, has proved genre-defiant over her two decades of alternative-pop explorations. Honda, of Cibo Matto fame, went solo with the backing of Tzadik during the 2000s and churned out a series of offbeat and colorful electro-pop records. Together, and backed by the rhythm section of Cornelius’ band, one would hope for left-field pop fireworks, but their debut album Salt on Sea Glass is more of a mediocre light show.

It’s a shame that the rest of the album doesn’t live up to the first track, a remix of “You Feel Right” by fellow Shibuya-Kei alumni, Keigo “Cornelius” Oyamada. Oyamada’s remixing abilities suit the sound perfectly. He has the Warhol-esque talent of taking a seemingly mundane piece of gloss-pop and coloring, recasting and presenting it in a much more interesting light. Haden’s lush vocals are staggered as percussive instruments (a technique she is already much experienced at), while snippets of colorful keyboard tones dart around like defiant Shigeru Miyamoto characters. It’s springy, playful and sexy. In fact, “You Feel Right” sounds so familiar, I dug through Cornelius’s underrated 2006 kaleidoscope, Sensuous, to see if it was a cast-off from that album. It isn’t, but it would sound much more in place as part of that record than Salt on Sea Glass.

David Byrne makes an appearance on the next track, “Eliza.” With shades of Indian and Southeast Asian influence, Haden and Byrne duet with ease, but with little excitement. Haden’s lush vocal timber easily soars above a notably subdued Byrne as strings and vaguely ethnic pinging percussion sweep the track into fusion restaurant territory. This direction sadly doesn’t let up as the rest of the album meanders on.

There are a handful of interesting moments throughout Salt on Sea Glass: the solemn melodies of “Imagnio,” the fragmentary instrumental breakdown during “Still Breathing” (another Cornelius mix, but a much less successful one), Haden’s self-harmonies throughout “You’re Something Else.” But regrettably for two such creative musicians, the majority of the album features middling adventurousness at best. They sound stuck in a decade past, somewhere between the outer ranks of the Shibuya-Kei scene and late-’90s adult alternative. It would make for decent shopping or dining background music, but that’s not where the careers of Haden and Honda deserve to be.

By Michael Ardaiolo

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