Its a mellowing experience, one that makes a sleepy day seem bearable. The folky tunes dont have an underlying layer of misery that marks Bon Ivers output, and thats all the better for just watching life go by on a lazy afternoon.
If youre lazy, you can just put No Silver on repeat and drift away. Its one of the best songs Ive heard all year, regardless of genre; all the pieces (vocals, lyrics, acoustic guitar, bass, strings, mandolin, drums) fit together perfectly to create a jaw-dropping experience.
But if you start to dissect Salt Year, it will let you down. Other than the immaculate No Silver, the rest is a pastiche of all the best attributes of indie folks last 10 years. It wouldnt be a problem if No Silver didnt have so much personality; I could just chalk the album up to a beautifully completed paint-by-numbers exercise. But Bathgate has real songwriting skill (or lightning in a bottle, but I feel its the former), so Im not just glossing it over.
Bathgate does owe a debt to Bon Ivers Justin Vernon for the sparse, icy moods (Fur Curled on the Sad Road, Borders), but he also owes Iron & Wines Sam Beam for the fuller arrangements he creates (In the City, Own Design). Fans of Ray LaMontagne will hear flashes of his songwriting here (In the City, the title track).
The only other place where Bathgate creates more than the sum of his parts is Everything (Overture), where the optimism of his I&W part tempers the sparseness of his Vernon-esque ability, and LaMontagnes emotiveness is applied over the resulting tension. He inhabits the same mood that No Silver built, and thats a winner. Levee also has charms, especially in the unique drum work.
I know its hard to write a batch of consistently amazing songs, but when tunes like No Silver and Everything (Overture) put you in conversation next to the heavy hitters, youve got to back that up. Salt Year definitely places Bathgate in the ring, but hes got some growing to do before hes connecting with more than the occasional haymaker. Still, hes not doing local fights anymore, either. Stephen Carradini