Photo: Adam Torres

Track-by-Track: Saloli walks us through her first album in five years, the warm, searching Canyon

It’s been a lengthy, mysterious wait for fans of pianist Mary Sutton – better known as Saloli. After dropping off her charming debut album, The Deep End (cleverly pitched as “ambient music for hot tubs”) in 2018, she all but vanished from the public eye. Some wondered if she even intended to return.

Thankfully, she most certainly has – releasing her sophomore effort, Canyon, last Friday via kranky. It’s a bountiful moment for lovers of warm, gently exploratory electronic music. The album more fully explores her experience as a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, intended to depict, “a day in the life of a bear in a canyon in the Smoky Mountains” (hence its lovely artwork).

To mark the occasion, she’s shared a reflection on each track with Beats Per Minute. Read (and listen) on below.

01. “Waterfall”

I wrote “Waterfall” the day after a very unique show I played on an old wurlitzer organ at Oaks Park Skating Rink. I had been learning organ non-stop for six weeks in order to pull it off, I had a blast but was so narrowly focused on the project, it was really challenging. It turned out to be a very fun show!! The next day I got out my synth and “Waterfall” poured out of me, like a vocal melisma over a drone, wailing with glee, still riding the high from the night before.

02. “Lily Pad”

This track was just pure fun. I was just goofing around, and somehow it worked! In the B section of the song, I wanted to do something a little less predictable, so I decided to modulate from Gb major to A major, something I wouldn’t normally think to do.  It sounded hilarious to me!! It was easy to imagine a frog jumping off a lily pad and diving into an underwater realm.

03. “Snake”

I wrote “Snake” for a show I played in a viney wooded backyard garden venue, full of cats. I had Enya and saxophone and mystery in the back of my mind.   

04. “Yona”

“Yona” was written for a rave in the forest at a cbd farm that later burned in a wildfire. I opened the event at sunset before the DJs really got things going. I played the first chord with the delay pedal, and it felt very dancy to me, so I rolled with that. I didn’t want the phrasing to be too square so I cut some of the phrases short to keep things swooping along!

05. “Silhouette”

“Silhouette” is probably the most somber and heartfelt of the tracks on Canyon. I really wanted the synth patch to glisten and sparkle, and to go to a very sentimental place musically.    

06. “Full Moon”

I was asked to play for an improvised music festival, but I fully notate all my music. I agreed to play anyway, and decided to infuse “Full Moon” with sounds I sometimes hear in improvised music, just a tiny bit of free jazz skronk. It felt a little naughty but I liked it!

07. “Nighthawk”

The delay pedal in “Nighthawk” really contributes to the meter of the track in a way that was so fun to play around with! I managed to time how I played against the delay pedal to create a shuffle rhythm, which was really tricky, but got me excited and felt groovy. I imagined a bird soaring at night, so I called it “Nighthawk”. Later I learned that there is a sect of Cherokee people who call themselves the Keetoowah Nighthawk Society. They are cultural traditionalists so I’m not sure what they’d think of the coincidental reference!

08. “Sunrise”

I knew I wanted to do another sweeping and more ambient track, akin to “Waterfall”. I hadn’t played with the arpeggiator much, and discovered that the combination of the arpeggiator and delay pedal made for a really lush texture. But I wanted to take it a step further so I actually played arpeggios on the synth as well, making sure to overlap the notes enough to ensure a shimmery texture. The effect was bright and dreamy and so I called it “Sunrise”.

Saloli’s Canyon is out now on kranky. You can find her on Instagram.