If By Yes is the unlikely name of four mixed race alternative rockers who have pooled their efforts for an exceptional debut, Salt On Sea Glass, to be released on Sean Lennon‘s Chimera Records label. Vocalist Petra Haden and keyboardist Yuka Honda first crossed paths as members of That Dog and Cibo Matto, respectively. Lennon (as you may know) was also in Cibo Matto. The remaining two members of If By Yes are Yuko Araki (drums), and Hirakata “Shimmy” Shimizu (guitar), whose other band is Cornelius, which (as they say) is big in Japan.
The hip credentials are certainly in place, and if there is any doubt, the ultimate arbiter of all things cool, David Byrne, is present as well. Byrne joins in on “Eliza,” just one of 11 extremely cool pop dreams collected on Salt On Sea Glass.
The unlikely effervescent tone of the record is established right off with opening track “You Feel Right.” The early ’80s organ sounds of Yuka Honda perfectly accent this breathy evocation of a long gone pop sound. I am thinking of a particular favorite forgotten one-hit wonder group from 1982 who called themselves Eye To Eye.
Byrne’s appearance on “Eliza” is scaled back nicely. Rather than loudly announcing his presence and dominating the tune, he sings a strong backup vocal, which allows the others to shine brightly. The saxophone that closes the tune out is a sweet touch.
The incredibly polished MOR of Sade or Hooverphonic is the starting place for “Imagino,” but the jazzy sax takes it in another direction as well. “Still Breathing” is a true highlight of this wonderfully low-key disc. Petra Haden’s vocals soar during the chorus, while the rest of the band feels more freely to indulge their avant-garde sides in accompaniment. The kaleidoscope of sounds mix with an almost Zen-like bass to propel this song forward into an unforgettable state of awareness.
“Out Of View” continues this indescribable blend of dream as viable reality, with musical beauty existing side by side with disconcerting imagery and effects. Haden’s vocals are exactly right for the tune, and lovely as ever.
The various motivations of If By Yes come together in a remarkable fashion during the closing “Adrift.” With all of the overtones of an epic, the song opens very quietly, and slowly builds momentum towards the inevitable big bang. The music then evolves into some wildly experimental sounds recalling at times some of Yoko Ono’s work. The latter half of the piece resolves itself with a delicate four-note melody which again gives way again. This time it sounds as If By Yes have been momentarily hijacked by King Crimson. This leads to the fiery guitar solo—Robert Fripp eat your heart out—which closes Salt On Sea Glass.
If By Yes’ blend of sleek pop with muted obscurantism is a sweet and sour pop delight, wrapped in a very shiny package. Devour at will, but be aware that they are highly addictive.