Heart That’s Pounding
On third album 'Heart That’s Pounding', Sally Seltmann drops the New Buffalo moniker and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, writes DOUG WALLEN.
New Buffalo no longer, singer-songwriter-pianist Sally Seltmann has stepped from behind her longtime guise. She has also moved back to her native Sydney, but not before recording this third album in Melbourne with producer François Tétaz and a multitude of guests. The Lucksmiths’ Mark Monnone plays bass and Jessica Says’ Jessica Venables lends strings, while everyone from The Middle East to Jens Lekman contribute vocals. And as usual, Seltmann’s husband Darren isn’t far away. Despite the full cast and studio setting, these diary-like songs catalogue their author’s most private wishes and perceived defects. At the same time, she sounds newly assured, her precious melodies and wispy voice working ever towards self-discovery.
Seltmann did record some of Heart That’s Pounding in her home studio, which she “re-imagined as a teen girl’s bedroom”. And from these songs, we can easily imagine her spinning and singing to herself in that room to a daydreamed “Wall of Sound” that she was ultimately able to realise. Several songs feel borrowed from a stage musical, complete with ticklish instrumental flourishes. ‘Harmony To My Heartbeat’ introduces the album’s two sides: the whisper of vulnerability followed by the embellished build to personal revelation. All over the record, Seltmann lists what’s wrong with the picture and then uses the song to resolve things. On ‘Set Me Free’ she’s after a bit space to herself, and on ‘Book Song’ she fantasises about writing novels instead of singing in a rundown bar away from home. Just getting these feelings off her chest seems like half the battle.
“Seltmann has used her many fears and anxieties to build an album that’s uplifting enough to transform someone’s life.”
In ‘On The Borderline’, Seltmann plans to tell herself every day to get out of bed and embrace life’s possibilities. And it’s no coincidence that this includes snapping her fingers and humming a tune. Heart That’s Pounding is all about pop salvation – and music is the prime catalyst for effecting change. On ‘Dream About Changing’, Seltmann pictures herself among instruments in the back of a smashed-up car, presumably after a mid-tour prang. Departing on a flight of fancy, she imagines throwing all her worries into a deep lake. “Get over your shy inhibitions,” she orders herself before telling the world, “I’m a little bit shy”, over an uplifting chorus.
As personal as these lyrics are, they’re exhaled with such affable lightness as to never overwhelm. And the music is buoyant at every turn, relishing layered whimsy as well as inventive details. Vocal harmonies are everywhere, and a wealth of synth and piano sounds distinguish each song. New production tactics and guests show up all the time, inspiring Seltmann to hit heavenly pop-radio choruses amid her usual hushed ballads. Like her hit song ‘1234’ for Feist, the closing ‘5 Stars’ and ‘Dark Blue Angel’ resemble lullabies. She wishes us goodnight and good luck on the former, and brings in a choir of friends one last time on the latter. And yet the depth of emotion remains.
On the title track, Seltmann references Loudon Wainwright III’s plea to “save my life” in his song ‘Motel Blues’. Pointing towards success in her quest for self-therapy, she sings, “I was lost but now you found me.” It’s not merely a handy lyric, but what feels like a profound victory for its singer. While Heart That’s Pounding is sweeping and divine regardless of its forthright lyrics, Seltmann has used her many fears and anxieties to build an album that’s uplifting enough to transform someone’s life. Even her own.