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Saloon - If We Meet in the Future

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Artist: Saloon

Album: If We Meet in the Future

Label: Darla

Review date: Jul. 9, 2003

Songs for Europe

Saloon's debut full-length release, (This Is) What We Call Progress (2002), was a minor revelation. The Reading (England) quintet's fusion of percolating and twittering analog synths, chugging guitars, hypnotic drones, metronomic beats, and pretty female vocals (sometimes in French) paid obvious homage to the early work of Stereolab, as well as to that band's precursors. But while Saloon showed considerable fluency in the kitschy retro-futurist idiom of the Anglo-Gallic groop, they were not mere imitators.

Thanks largely to the integration of an array of organic instrumentation – including viola, cello, trumpet, and melodica – and an exploration of more varied moods, their reworking of an admittedly recognizable sound had its own distinctive accent. In the UK, Saloon earned the overwhelming approval of John Peel listeners, who voted "Girls Are the New Boys" the No. 1 song of 2002 in the great man's annual "Festive 50" chart. This was no mean achievement, considering that 2002's "Festive 50" also featured tracks by Low, Cornershop, Belle & Sebastian, Wire, the White Stripes, Interpol, and even hardy perennials the Fall.

Returning with If We Meet in the Future, Saloon continue to chart similar postmodern space-pop territory. Numbers with motorik, coasting grooves, such as "Happy Robots," find Saloon breezing down that same autobahn built by the likes of Kraftwerk and Neu! and subsequently traveled by Stereolab. Elsewhere, on "Vesuvius" and "The Sound of Thinking," the band turns off the cruise control and lets the songs swell to intense, driving climaxes.

However, as with the previous album, Saloon are at their best once they stop following that familiar map so closely, get off the well-beaten track, and make a few detours. The band asserts its own identity particularly when it slows the pace and takes the time to develop a slightly more varied, more expansive sound that lifts the onus off the lockstep beats. Fragile guitars, delicate syncopated percussion, and a melancholy viola make "Kaspian" one of the album's most impressive numbers. Equally memorable are the lilting "Dreams Mean Nothing" – with more sad strings, brushed drums, and lulling melodicas – and the sedate "¿Qué Quieres?" on which Amanda Gomez sings in Spanish. (Some of the band's singles have been in Spanish, while "Le Weekend" from the debut album featured Gomez singing in French.)

Although If We Meet in the Future retains some of the lush '60s pop sound that permeated several of the tracks on the first album, it also bears the traces of a few '80s influences. With its wistful melodica lines, the upbeat "The Good Life" evokes New Order's "Love Vigilantes" and the bright synth sheen on "Intimacy" suggests a New Wave appropriation of Kraftwerk.

Saloon might not attract the same short-term attention as some of their higher profile rock and pop peers in the UK, but this second album affirms that they have more to offer than many of their compatriots. Indeed, Saloon's sound problematizes the rather simple terms of national identity and it makes more sense to call them a European group than a British group. They display none of the Little Englandism, provincialism, or insularity that have characterized a fair bit of the music to emerge from the UK over the last decade. Saloon's musical and cultural reference points attest to a broader and more dynamic continental sensibility and they are all the more interesting and exciting for that.

By Wilson Neate

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