New Buffalo

Last Beautiful Day

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Originally released in singer/songwriter Sally Seltmann's native Australia in 2004 before Broken Social Scene's label Arts and Crafts picked it up for international distribution the following year, New Buffalo's full-length debut blends electronic and acoustic instruments in richly textured arrangements. Conceptually similar to contemporaneous albums by Keren Ann, Emiliana Torrini, and Feist (who in 2007 would have a major international hit with her version of Seltmann's song "1234"), what sets The Last Beautiful Day apart are Seltmann's talents as both singer and songwriter: gifted with a strong, clear voice that's a more substantial and varied instrument than many of her more wispy contemporaries; Seltmann is also a clever melodicist with a knack for plainspoken but evocative lyrics. On first listen, a track like "I've Got You and You've Got Me (Song of Contentment)" is merely a hypnotic swirl, four minutes' worth of pleasant atmospherics; slowly, however, Seltmann's cyclical melody and genuinely sweet, lovestruck lyrics reveal themselves through the haunting synthesizer and saxophone arrangement. Elsewhere, the minimal "Time to Go to Sleep" echoes the insomniac's lament of the lyrics by letting various instruments and unidentifiable sounds intrude and recede as the simple, lullaby-like melody unfolds, like the nagging thoughts and noises that interfere with sleep. More immediately accessible songs like the soaring opener "Recovery" and the gentle solo acoustic showcase "Come Back," which features Seltmann's most guileless and unfettered vocal, are early proof of her knack for memorable, hook-filled but unpredictable songs. In the aftermath of Feist's success with her song, Seltmann's second album as New Buffalo, 2007's Somewhere, Anywhere, garnered a lot more critical attention, but The Last Beautiful Day is every bit as good.

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