Saltwater (Dead Oceans)
Reviewed by Austin Powell, Fri., June 14, 2013
BrazosSaltwater (Dead Oceans)
Stagnant after one too many days at a local phone bank, Martin Crane packed everything he owned into his 1990 Honda Civic station wagon and left Austin in 2011 without fanfare. Spending the next two years in a cycle of self-discovery, he pieced together his second full-length album and a new Brazos lineup in Brooklyn with bassist Spencer Zahn and drummer Ian Chang. Saltwater captures that great awakening, emboldened and expansive, torn between childlike wonder and quarter-life introspection. "I feel summer sweeping out/I feel myself freezing like a water spout," reflects Crane in the circular stutter of "Charm," one of several passing references to his transitory state. Like 2009's self-released Phosphorescent Blues, an effort Dead Oceans should prep for immediate reissue, Crane bobs and weaves through slipstream narratives, a featherweight with kid gloves. "How the Ranks Was Won" recounts a ghost ship, while the title track reimagines Moby Dick, and "One Note Pillow" suggests Outlandos d'Amour-era Police. These 12 tracks feel lived in, as if each detail – streaming synth manipulations in stunning opener "Always On" and Crane's layered, careening vocals – has been carefully considered, up close and at a distance, to achieve the right balance in color and tone. "Deeper Feelings," in particular, with its slow-mo seduction and clashing distortion, will leave you breathless. All told, Saltwater's the most refreshing indie pop LP since Sufjan Stevens' Illinois. It's been a long haul, but Crane's arrived.