What does it sound like?:
Nadine Khouri has found her musical soul-mate in John Parish. Her hushed, stately voice is perfectly matched by his gritty understatement. Khouri spent her first seven years in Beirut and is now based in London. She has been floating round the periphery of the music business for quite a time, making her debut album as long ago as 2005. The Salted Air is its follow up with only an EP, some singles and a number of collaborations to show for the intervening years. Fortunately, one of those collaborations was with Parish on a soundtrack. Parish is renowned for his atmospheric soundscapes. Eels fans will know him from his work on Souljacker and PJ Harvey credits him with teaching her his guitar technique.
The Salted Air was recorded live in a basement in Bristol. It is a chimera of an album, the sound of a wispy, mysterious figure, gazing longingly out to sea looking for someone gone or not yet there, as the breeze billows her skirts and robes. There is a tender, troubled soul at the heart of it.
The two tracks that bookend the album are the most effective. The opener, Thru You I Awaken, is Eastern and exotic, melismatic vocals, undulating over a bed of drone music. Catapult is buoyed by bluesy Hammond organ swells, its melody picked gently on an acoustic guitar, the tension tightened by escalating percussion. In between, there is Jerusalem Blue, a lament for a fractured city and a broken heart and You Got A Fire gives the impression of being suspended in time between two different worlds. The pace picks up with I Ran Thru The Dark (To The Beat Of My Heart), which skips along nicely on some lovely percussive textures, and the mantra-like chant of Shake It Like A Shaman, apparently a tribute to Jeff Buckley.
Taken in isolation, at least half a dozen of the ten tracks shimmer with beauty, framed by unusual instrumentation. As a whole, however, the album demands patience and strong powers of concentration from the listener. There is a dip in the middle where the songs tend to meander aimlessly and the melodies become as elusive as that ghostly figure looking out to sea. There is a great deal of promise to The Salted Air but the songs need more, more hooks, greater variation, better bridges, some middle eights, even a chorus or two, anything to capture the ear’s attention. Moody atmospherics and a delicate voice will only satisfy to a certain degree. The Salted Air is a fine effort but there is still room for improvement.
What does it all *mean*?
The music business is a tough business. I do hope Khouri and Parish work together again soon.
Goes well with…
Dim lights, dark brandy and scented candles. In an intimate venue, I imagine The Salted Air will translate well live.
Might suit people who like…
Chants, mantras, prayers, hymns and an air of mystery.