The Salted Air is the latest release from Beirut-born Nadine Khouri, following her 2010 A Song To The City EP and various singles in the intervening years, and there can be little doubt that it’s her most complete, fully realised piece of work to date.
Its origins can be traced back to 2009 when, at his request, Khouri contributed vocals to Screenplay by John Parish. The bond has remained in place since, with Parish taking care of production duties on The Salted Air. He helps shape and form the album, ensuring that a low key, carefully controlled atmosphere settles over and unites the album’s ten tracks.
Lyrically, it is a contemplative, personal piece of work that touches on themes of loss, separation and trying to find your place in the world. Musically meanwhile it is the very definition of hushed and restrained, never really veering too far away from the late-night feel that envelops the album. Yet, importantly the album undergoes enough in the way of minor developments or subtle changes to ensure it’s an engaging listen.
Thru You I Awaken ushers us in minimalist style, Khouri’s vocals seductively draped over a bare backdrop of strings. Hints of her Middle Eastern background surface in the ripples emanating from her vocals, and while it may initially begin in an overly smooth fashion a sense of balance is eventually restored. I Ran Thru The Dark (To The Beat Of My Heart) has a greater flow and more visible animation and is all the better for it. Jerusalem Blue meanwhile continues in similar style, quietly reinforcing her unshowy songwriting strength.
Broken Star is an early stand out track, its bare, unadorned percussion capturing attention early on. Her sound has been compared to Low and Mazzy Star amongst others and there’s proof to be found here in its sombre, grounding beauty. It’s followed by the understated procession of Daybreak, which sinks us deeper into the album’s darkened moods and troubled emotions. Offsetting light is forthcoming however in the soothing, mellifluous properties of Surface Of The Sea while You Got A Fire is in possession of some exquisite sliding harmonies that pull us gratefully further upward.
Under different circumstances Shake It Like A Shaman, with its male backing vocals and repeated mantras, might have registered as an album highlight but in reality, it strays close to being slightly formulaic, the idea having been executed with greater weight and authority by the likes of PJ Harvey. The brittle, delicate melodies of Catapult close the album on a positive note however, putting a seal on a collection of songs that successfully articulates Khouri’s musical identity.