Following his critically-acclaimed debut album ‘Dust & Bone’, Brighton-based musician Michael Baker releases ‘Salt’, a stunningly honest and open-hearted journey through the ups and downs of life, love and loss.
The album’s title and its simple, yet striking sea-green cover artwork immediately captured my imagination, setting the tone and flavour of a tidal and emotional trip. Opening track ‘Shed My Skin’ confirmed this first impression, drawing me in with uplifting chords and lyrics: “I’m gonna take myself to the edge of the ocean and just gonna swim”. Baker’s vocals emanate a soft and tranquil beauty, backed by subtle string arrangements and occasionally resonating with the magical sound of pedal steel.
Title track ‘Salt’ follows, introducing a gorgeous folk-americana duet where Baker’s warm tones merge with sweet, childlike female vocals, comparable to a young Hope Sandoval. The lyrics are bitter and romantic all at once (“Let my tears run a river”, “Your salt on my wound”) and with a haunting quality, especially towards the end. This atmosphere perfectly encapsulates the whole album’s spirit, reminding us that salt is the taste of tears, but also the spice of life.
The next song is the single ‘Baby Books’, a more indie-sounding piece with electric guitars and a solid beat, slightly reminiscent of Radiohead. Written after the loss of a friend who took their own life, this intimate piece serves both as a poignant tribute (“I hope you’re good now that you’re gone”) and a pledge for opening up about mental health (“Why didn’t you tell me?”, “If I could help you now, I would help you out”). But despite the inevitable sadness of this topic, there is still hope and comfort in Baker’s delivery.
The same feeling pervades throughout ‘Claire’, the artist’s personal favourite. Starting with a few soft piano notes, the song is delicate and inviting, with gentle acoustic guitar chords. I am reminded of Fleet Foxes, especially in the chorus, where light percussion and soaring backing vocals add a lush texture. Here again, the lyrics bring hope and relief after loss (“I have a little rope to climb to be escaping”), while also acknowledging how confusing and chaotic life can be (“It’s clear we’re hallucinating, Claire, we’re hallucinating”). The underlying tenderness of this song is perfectly illustrated by a minimalistic animated music video, where two abstract characters explore layered paper landscapes in a touching game of hide and seek.
Next comes ‘Little Hands’, also starting with piano and soft percussion. The slow build up involves choral backing vocals, a deep bass groove and flowing guitar licks that bring a certain dreaminess, as Baker sings “Don’t we all get a little strange sometimes?”. Like the rest of the album, ‘Little Hands’ has a melancholic atmosphere, and there is a liquid, aquatic quality to the sound. But the smooth production of Ed Martin still allows Michael Baker’s vocals to get a little raspier in places, adding more rawness and authenticity to the mix.
With ‘One God Damn’, the second half of the record begins on a catchy note, where vulnerable vocals build up to an epic, emotional chorus with vintage organs and upbeat piano chords, reminiscent of early Coldplay. “What a god damn beautiful thing”, sings Baker, and it’s hard to disagree!
Then ‘Big Moon’ offers a soothing ballad showcasing the singer’s lower vocal range, before evolving into an echo-ey chorus with lyrics celebrating the healing powers of new beginnings.
As its title suggests, next song ‘Hippy Dippy’ brings about a nostalgic 1960’s singer-songwriter ambiance. The verses paint a picture of loneliness, financial troubles and uncertainty but remain optimistic overall, calling for strength in adversity.
Penultimate single ‘They Look Just Like They Know’ is probably my favourite track on the album, perhaps because of its delicate guitars and evocative lyrics (“The mind can be a deadly place”), which remind me a little bit of Nick Drake. Folk tones merge effortlessly with modern production techniques and unexpected effects, such as a subtle vocoder in the background.
Closing track ‘Past The Evening’, another single, is equally beautiful with its stripped-back, country-inspired tale of wanderlust (“it’s the most excellent feeling, gotta get on moving”). Intricate strings blend seamlessly with vocals that evocate Junip’s José González. The official music video, showing Baker singing and playing guitar in dimmed light, adds a warm and nostalgic campfire vibe to the ensemble:
In conclusion, I came out of this listening experience feeling relaxed and reflective, as if a gentle sea had washed all my troubles away. Glorious in its subtle complexity, ‘Salt’ is a beautiful opus with exquisite attention to detail and a lot of heart.
‘Salt’ by Michael Baker was released independently on 6/03/2020. Listen to the album in full on Soundcloud below: