Review: Martin A. Smith – Salt

Taking its primary inspiration from the striking expanse of the Camargue area in the South of France, Salt gradually pieces together a dynamic and intriguing landscape throughout its 14 compositions – whilst I’ve never visited the Camargue myself, I reach the end of Salt with some very distinctive mental visuals burned into the back of my mind – it sounds like a place molded and characterized by absence of life and activity, rich in a history only implied by its pensive desolation.

Salt is often strongest when it is at its most texturally ambiguous – drones drift in and out as a ghostly residue, snatches of muttered voices or animal-esque yelps splash the backdrop and fade out as quickly as they enter. Occasionally I find myself reminded of the blurry, washed-out spaces conjured throughout the music of Andrew Chalk, with warm, harmonic hums that loop and lazily overlap like melting wind chimes. It’s on tracks such as “Fleur de Sel” that this approach feels most effective.

But unlike many albums that dive into this contemplative territory, Salt doesn’t wallow in a single space for too long. In some instances I feel as though I’m being dragged away before ideas are able to fully come into focus – four minutes isn’t always long enough to explore these pieces thoroughly – although sometimes it works nicely, providing a concise snapshot before venturing elsewhere in what is clearly a very diverse landscape.

The second half dips into a drier and more attack-heavy pool of textures, and the free-flow of the music is swapped for a more explicit interaction with dynamics, complete with teasing stretches of near-silence. It’s nicely introduced, with the more familiar instruments such as piano and voice phased in without disrupting the album’s overall continuity, as well as being expertly used, spilling out in beautiful melodic fragments.

Salt manages to remain simultaneously varied and cohesive, and I’d put this down to the fact that the same creative springboard unifies all of these tracks – whilst it may skim over some aspects without fully immersing itself, Salt is very impressive for the way in which it can shift its approach without tainting its atmospheric consistency.