Light blue colored background black and white cartoony houses at top left and clouds and the words the Salty Caramels over a bike and white puddles and the words in white Baby Blue

I first saw the Salty Caramels seven or eight years ago when the Columbus music scene was locked in the death grip of the Americana movement. There were three ladies in matching dresses, and (if memory serves) they sang a song about ice cream. In addition to playing the acoustic miscellany of the day, one of them had a saw with a violin bow which sounded like an intoxicated ghost with self-esteem issues. It was saccharin to the point of nausea.

Subsequently, I learned that they had undergone a lineup change, adding a drummer and electric guitar. Even so, I was a little apprehensive when I popped in their new disc, Baby Blue, the title of which I suspected was not a Dylan reference. Sure enough, the opening track began with a sort of kitschy drum and vocal intro about a Baby Blue. About six seconds in I was actually reaching for the eject button.

Which would have been a serious mistake. Because this album is a collection of gloriously wonderful pop music that is light years away from what I expected.

These songs are simply gorgeous. Understated instrumentation is layered with three part close harmonies for a sound that is both assertive and fragile. With regard to song structure, these tunes were put together by people who not only get pop, but also get why pop is important.

Just because it's pop music doesn’t mean it isn’t serious. The Caramels’ lyrics are intelligent and subtle. The most startling thing about them, however, is how they seem temporary, bottle rockets of thought that fire off and disappear. This causes the narration to seem just a little bit detached, which to me is the most intriguing thing about the recordings. In conjunction with the vocals, this detachment recalls nothing so much as the Weymouth Sisters on Tom Tom Club's first album.

Album tracks include “Safe,” an exploration of the passenger’s discomfort in being unable to control their situation. It makes you remember the first time you touched down in a strange city and trusted a cabbie to take you to your hotel at some meaningless address. The background vocals on the chorus are probably the best vocal arrangement on the album.

“Nighttime Song” would just be another love song but for the vocal delivery, which seems deliberately tentative and noncommittal. The narrator is saying all of the right words, but only seems to believe half of them.

“Lover’s Slumber” is more abstract. While certainly a little darker than “Nighttime Song” (“(baby take me underwater, float downstream a lover’s slumber”), it might be the healthier relationship. Unless there is some darker motive involved, and there does seem to be a possibility of that.

“Beach Bums” and “Trouble” are tributes to that kind of female cool for which I’ll forever be just a spectator. Speaking of Tom Tom Club, I always felt the same way about “Genius of Love.”

“Let it Go” is that advice we wish we could accept: push all those negative and stressful thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on the now. Or, as Napoleon put it, “(t)hrow off your worries when you throw off your clothes at night.” If only it were that easy.

“Better than Okay” closes out the album. Ostensibly a jilted lover’s song, the narrator seems to be aware that nothing warps the past like regret and loss. It seems that she is going to indulge herself in anger and self-pity for a certain period of time, and then she will turn to the future.

There are only a couple of missteps. The third track, “Wicked,” sacrifices a wonderful arrangement on the altar of the phrase “dead to me.” “Beer and Lemonade” is the modern story of the first time a friend of yours mixed you up a shandy in s Solo cup while assuring you they do this all the time in England. Unfortunately it contains a be a throwback to the dreaded Americana era, when the “g” was fearlessly shaved off the end of the verb “sitting” and people had favorite chairs. In this alternate reality, the drinks aren’t mixed together and a checkered tablecloth is involved. The whole thing is sort of weird.

Pop music of this caliber is extraordinary and just makes me really happy. It is remarkable to have something that is so well crafted and yet so intensely human. “Safe” in particular is a stupid-good song that is worth the price of admission alone.

If you’re wondering what happened with “Baby Blue” after the first six seconds, it devolves into a tightly harmonized description of a nighttime bicycle trip in search of the titular character. It's pretty, innocent, and just a It's reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters deciding to do something ever so slightly creepy. I love this stuff, I really do. Cheers.


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