New Buffalo

Somewhere, Anywhere

(Arts & Crafts/Dot Dash; 2007)

By David Greenwald | 10 August 2007

New Buffalo's debut record was an unequivocal success of innovation, a folk record for the 21st century: rarely has the genre embraced the art of sampling so effectively. Experimenters like the Books aside, the domain of the singer/songwriter is typically limited to singing your own songs -- not cutting and pasting those of others. But most singer/songwriters aren't married to a guy from the Avalanches (or Australian), and so The Last Beautiful Day (2004) was a gorgeous melding of song, voice, and studio finesse.

Some of the debut's techniques are still on display here, but for the most part, sophomore release Somewhere, Anywhere is a stripped-down affair; it's one of my most listened-to albums of the year in part because it's taken that long to differentiate which reverberating piano attaches to which song. The album's first half is mostly dreary, somewhat inconspicuous solo piano tracks. They have their charms, of course: Sally Seltmann remains an extraordinary singer -- the wash of harmony she opens "Cheer Me Up Thank You" with is like the sun appearing from behind a cloud -- and a tuneful songwriter, as Feist's recent "1 2 3 4" (which Seltman co-wrote) attests. But she probably should've hung on to that one for herself. Where are the hand claps? Where are the bass lines?

There's still studio magic hiding in the corners of the record, but it's the songs that are always under the spotlight. "You've Gone My Friend" cuts through the fog by switching to acoustic guitar and turning in an Elliott Smith-like doubled vocal; "When you were a child, you rode the boat to mystery," she sings, and would that all the songs were so instantly haunting. The album's woozy tone is played up well in "It's Got To Be Jean," which incorporates jazzy, cymbal-soft drumming and gentle horn prods. When the cymbals drop out and Seltman's melody gains energy, it's both understated and captivating -- the way the best New Buffalo songs are.

Somewhere, Anywhere isn't even a disappointing album, really, just the sound of an artist that's already nailed her sound making some unnecessary changes. There's beauty to be found here, and comfort and intimacy; it's just that every New Buffalo song has to be held to the gold standard of tracks such as "Recovery" and "I've Got You and You've Got Me," the kind of heart-stoppers that Seltman's sophomore album sorely lacks.