Salt – The Loneliness of Clouds

Salt’s origin story is a fascinating one, even if it’ll likely resonate with only a select demographic. The Paris-centric band’s formation is a thin silver lining to emerge from the 2013 suicide of Game Theory/Loud Family mastermind Scott Miller. Miller’s widow enlisted Ken Stringfellow for an unusually heavy lift as producer – interrogating hundreds of song fragments left behind in various stages of completion to assemble what would become the posthumous Game Theory release Supercalifragile.

Stringfellow’s pedigree as longtime half of power pop stalwarts the Posies – not to mention his role in Big Star’s second coming – made him a natural fit (Stringfellow’s 2001 solo turn Touched, after which he soon relocated to Paris, is a hidden gem). Ditto Anton Barbeau, a lovable California eccentric in the Andy Partridge/Robyn Hitchcock mold, who shared top billing on Miller’s final Loud Family LP What If it Works? Barbeau contributed vocals to Supercali, and struck up a long-distance friendship.

But Salt’s centerpiece keeps a lower profile, at least stateside. Stephane Schuck can boast more Supercalifragile songwriting credits than anyone save its late star. Miller befriended the Parisian in the ’90s, produced an album by his onetime band Swan Plastic Swan, and continued a casual songwriting partnership into his final years. A medical doctor and epidemiology researcher by trade, Schuck either contracted a strain of Miller’s classic yet slightly off-kilter pop melodicism, or the two always shared a few strands of DNA.

Schuck wrote all the music on The Loneliness of Clouds but delegated vocal duties to Barbeau, who was given a wide berth to retrofit the ESL lyrics. Barbeau has proven himself to be a keen collaborator (check out his work with Allyson Seconds on 2016’s Little World); perhaps working with others reins in his more outré tendencies. Add Stringfellow’s knack for economical yet approachable production, and you’ve got a solid set of lite psychedelia well suited for fans of the Paisley Underground or Dukes of Stratosphear.

The harmony rich mid-tempo procession gives equal play to guitars and keys, and when the tunes occasionally veer toward the homogenous Barbeau’s quirks swoop in to clinch the deal – check out his unhinged pleas of “Oh please, leave me alone!” on standout “Miracle Soul Pow(d)er” or his cryptic chant of “Seven…” on “Crime Spree.”

The sound is a bit muddier than its glossy packaging and Abbey Road studio credit insinuate, but The Loneliness of Clouds isn’t aiming for the Top of the Pops. Salt will settle for elevating a few heart rates.

The Loneliness of Clouds