In 1847, Brigham Young led his flock of Latter-day Saints across Nebraska to rest in the settlement of Deseret in Utah. One could only imagine what it was like for those pioneers — who had traveled so far through blazing heat and blistering cold; who had lost friends and loved ones to sickness, schism, or violence; whose hearts were still weighted down by the memory of their prophet’s murder — to set eyes upon the Salt Lake Valley, a location specifically chosen for its undesirability to anyone else. Did they despair at the landscape laid out before them? Did they question the wisdom of their God and their prophets who had led them to this desolate corner of the earth? Or did they perhaps feel the faint stirrings of joy that one feels upon arriving home after a long and perilous journey?
I Thought It Was Us But It Was All of Us, the debut from Rebecca Foon’s solo project Saltland, seems to capture some of this pioneer spirit, creating an atmosphere of pristine beauty and barely concealed danger. Her compositions evoke barren wind-swept plains and sun-cracked earth, and thus fit comfortably alongside the work of Dylan Carlson or Colin Stetson (who also contributes to some of the tracks), but without the McCarthyian undercurrent of cruelty.
Foon plays cello for several Godspeed You! Black Emperor side projects, such as Set Fire to Flames, some iteration(s) of Thee Silver Mount Zion, and Esmerine, an experimental outfit that also features fellow Saltland bandmate Jamie Thompson. She’s a skilled musician who has no difficulty slipping onto center stage with either her voice or her instrument, and her album shrewdly cuts its ethereal frontier post-rock with an impressive variety of textural additives. For instance, there’s “I Thought It Was Us,” whose swirling maelstrom of strings and brass recalls Godspeed’s apocalyptic dread. There’s the shimmering wall of sound that maxes the levels on the shoegaze-y “Unholy.” There’s even a weird close-harmony vocal melody that crops up on album closer “Hearts Mend.” These diverse elements blend seamlessly with Foon’s abstract Americana.
Maybe a little too seamlessly, actually. Despite her best efforts, the non-instrumental tracks still suffer from a kind of sameness that causes them to run together. And while the lushness of the compositions rewards close listening, I can’t say that I felt particularly compelled to revisit any of them. Foon’s debut album summons the stark majesty of the American frontier as it might have been experienced by those pilgrims to the original salt lands. Yet for all that, it’s not quite able to sustain in the listener those pioneer sensations of fear, wonder, and doubt. Here’s hoping that future releases will find her pushing forward into yet undiscovered country.