Review Summary: Seltmann possesses one of the most affectively potent voices in the history of pop and indie music, delicate and projecting shyness but full of resonance and solidity.
Sally Seltmann’s music comes at me from both directions: I feel she is a prescient artist in a big music-historical way, and I find her music deeply moving. Let’s start with the first part. The Last Beautiful Day
, like its 2001 predecessor About Last Night
(EP), is elegantly produced by Seltmann and generally shapes its melodic material around sampled music–horns, strings, handclaps, organs, inscrutable twinkling sounds. It is here that I’ll mention that Seltmann’s longtime husband is Darren from The Avalanches, but Seltmann’s samples are generally more reserved and “partial” than are Darren and co.’s, and Seltmann, unlike them, sings.
And boy does she sing. To my ears, Seltmann possesses one of the most affectively potent voices in the history of pop and indie music, delicate and projecting shyness but full of resonance and solidity. This interesting mixture of basic musical elements that are so clearly “someone else’s” and the direct shot to the heart fired by Seltmann’s voice creates an uncanny sonic universe, a kind of proscenium constructed by the style that finds its visual embodiment in the album's theatrical cover.
Seltmann often sings with her beautiful voice about depression and its opposite. Seltmann has bipolar disorder and her insider’s perspective is consistently employed on this album to unexpected ends. Often, she sings from the vantage point of someone pulled out of the mire entirely, often reaching back in to contact another: “This time, it’s not about you,” begins the aching “It’ll Be Alright”. Opener “Recovery” unironically adduces a “new day,” and its sparkling keyboards, quirky and light percussion, and resplendent samplery make sure that content is rendered as form and vice versa. The Last Beautiful Day
, despite the apocalyptic implications of its title, seems expressly designed to make someone feel like they can get out of bed just this one more time.
The Last Beautiful Day
is a subtle album that needed a few listens to really open up for me. I knew for sure that it sounded like a lot of music released in the 2010s but more sophisticated and emotionally complex, yet the smoothness and profusion of intense feelings in which every track is lathered took a while to appear fully formed. When it did, though, I saw that I had not lost but gained for my experience waiting for The Last Beautiful Day
to blossom. This album, in an unusual and edifying manner, both evokes and turns away from the roil of contrary moods that necessarily attend any good musical therapy session. Seltmann surely has had it rough, and the acidic prognostication of this album’s title isn’t purely ironized by the prettiness of its sound. The exquisitely reserved The Last Beautiful Day
makes clear, however, that at no point was her pain greater than the benevolent impulse to share it with the world, make it beautiful. It is for this quality, above all, that I am thankful for all of the artists who have made that strenuous decision, and for wonderful albums like The Last Beautiful Day