Song 309: Laura Veirs, “Saltbreakers” (2007)


This song is interesting for many reasons. First of all, Laura Veirs combines all sorts of sounds—handclaps, violins, electric guitars, unexpectedly cumbersome background vocals—to make one big interesting arrangement. Then there’s the subject matter: who writes about the sea anymore? Veirs tackles the subject like some kind of oceanographer poet, comparing herself to various bits of nature (my favorite is “I’m a falling leaf who keeps her green”) while keeping her “trusty bag” of saltbreakers close.

So what is a saltbreaker? I always assumed it was a technical term for a type of wave, but it appears to be a word that Veirs made up. The song works better this way, because now “saltbreaker” can mean anything that disrupts the natural order of things, anything that propels Veirs around the sea like a prankster fish. Ringing all the underwater, underwater, underwater bells.

Veirs has a voice so plain that it borders on deadpan, which works perfectly for songs like this, where the contrast between matter-of-factness and fantasy makes for a fun combination with the impeccably arranged music underneath.


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