About Last Night EP
(Modular/The Seltmanns; 2002/2006)
By Aaron Newell | 22 September 2006
I have a big apology to make to New Buffalo. I made a misguided comment in a track review a little while back. It went something like “and when you’re boning Darren Seltmann from the Avalanches….” Ugh. It was meant to be a backwards name-drop compliment-by-association. I figured that some notion of the couple’s intimacy might suggest the type of otherworldly electronic music that New Buffalo is capable of making, by reference to the Avalanches, since, obviously, I didn’t have descriptive vocabulary to actually communicate that in less-smutty terms. But The Avalanches. She lives with one of those dudes. Can you imagine what the demos in their shoeboxes sound like? Or how their furniture is made completely of first-pressing Duke Ellington vinyl because they’ve run out of record storage? I’m twitching with regret about that track review. There is absolutely no reason to discuss boning, shagging, two-backed-beasting, humpsing, the unbottling of genies, and “t’rowing it in” in a New Buffalo article. From this point forward, any suggestion of sex by reference to adolescent slang words is purely accidental and wholly the product of the reader’s dirty imagination. The reason I am backpeddling like this is simple. Sally, first and foremost, writes songs that appear to presume certain things about relationships: when relationships end, the parties will struggle, they will need friends to help them deal, they will want to talk about feelings for a little bit, it’s ok; when relationships thrive, they are beautiful, insulated worlds that involve very human elements of love and need and reliance and all types of intimacy, and this is the ideal. You can see how a thickhead might feel the need to jazz up a review with crass 10-cent words. But that’s the bad cop-out: there’s no place for as-long-as-you-don’t-grab-it-I’mma-let-you-have-it in a New Buffalo song. I’m not saying that the above types of relationships are devoid of creative and “enlivened” private time, I’m saying that sometimes certain angles are anathema to certain causes. The New Buffalo website announced recently that Sally’s 2001 EP About Last Night has been re-released with availability to everyone outside of the UK and Ireland, and only for purchase direct from the site. The British exemption is likely due to the fact that the original pressing was released in the UK under exclusive licence to EMI, who reportedly used it as bait to determine whether New Buffalo could ship truckloads of full-lengths, and therefore whether she was worth the money they were dumping into her Los Angeles studio sessions with certain “famous” unnamed producers. The EP is still lingering in the racks of various UK mom-n-pops, available on amazon.co.uk marketplace, but these guys don’t ship to North America, and if you manage to get someone on the phone and circumvent the whole Amazon cart process, by the time you convert the currency and factor in shipping, it’s essentially the same in USD or CAD cost to order direct from Sally’s online shop, which will probably see about $5-$10 more go directly to your favourite Australian wooze-pop-making romantic. CMG will also do your taxes and some divorces, e-mail Scott for rates. The release is subtitled “The Seltmanns Reissue,” fittingly giving the feel of a family affair--lyric check: “This is more / than desire / I feel all…You’re on stage in a different town / and the press say that they want more.” “This is More” opens with a line about how all Sally remembers is one night in December (which is a summer’s night in Australia, hemisphere check). Sally’s lines are braced with filtered, stretched drums, escalating choir harmonies, muted horns, chimes, and dusty chords amounting to a New Buffalo version of an Endtroducing-style hook thrashout. The arrangement on “This is More” is equally fascinating to dissect as it is to hear, full-on, in love-letter assault form. The production mix of electronics and crackling vinyl that made The Last Beautiful Day (2004) such a revelation (it is, trust us) shows up all over About Last Night in a slightly less-refined form. “Just A Little” has a gorgeous minute-long closing instrumental that cuts away too soon, but still makes up for the misplaced vocoder verse in the bridge (it was 2001) that puts a gloss on the charming opening lines. The song starts with a fight, the boy leaves to go for a drive, the girl stays home and writes: “I'm not leaving / You're what keeps me / All inspired / Have I told you / In the room / I played guitar /I wrote about you / All night long and / I'm not leaving.” Seltmann sings these point-form arguments for being in love with a melting, poignant sincerity, like Ben Gibbard at his best. And that shouldn’t turn your stomach: Sally’s versions are the equivalent to putting Sam Beam’s take on “Such Great Heights” over fuller, thicker, more delicate and creative electronic arrangements than the Postal Service ever whipped up. Her production values in 2001 were too experimental for major pop success then, and still sound off-centre for melodic, catchy date music today. Except today ears are more open to just that. Sometimes things do get a little fey. The opener “16 Beats” sees typically-beautifully warped strings and chords sprinkled with the words: “Where've you been / Long lost angel / Ride my bike / So much faster / Sixteen beats / And I'm back with you.” One of the more remarkable things about Sally’s music is that her talent for presentation regularly turns lyrics that would be eyerollers into musically-articulate and eloquently-expressed emotion. What looks whimsical on paper can be incredibly affecting when given the proper context and delivery. “16 Beats” doesn’t quite make it over the hump, despite the strong melody. But then you have “About Last Night,” which mushes all sorts of bubbling keys, soft string flourishes, horn sections, maybe melodica, layered organs, maybe, since the elements are so cohesively intertwined it’s hard to tease them out, all into a hazy rumination on the boy’s decision to “follow up”: “If you do this do it for you / And stop before you start / Making plans / So she's got something to break.” It’s a summation of the struggle to be open in a new relationship, and to “get off on the right foot,” condensed in four clever lines. Roughly two years after our gushy write-up of The Last Beautiful Day, CMG still gets e-mails from readers who picked up that album and want to know where to get more music (in one month in 2005 we received e-mails from three different guys who purchased it for their partners, whose “love lives” subsequently improved, and who were “thanked repeatedly”--sure). There’s a new full-length in the works right now, but, while we’re waiting, About Last Night will definitely suffice for quickies. Sorry.