Crown jewels. Hunched over a guitar in a dimly lit bar on a damp, humid evening stands Ben Salter. This could be any small bar in Australia on any given night of the week. Salter tours relentlessly, road-testing songs, often for months before committing them to the aspic encasement of a recording session. I nearly always catch him when he plays one of any number of Sydney’s inner-western dives (at least twice a year).
It’s been a long time between drinks for Salter fans unable to attend those live shows. Debut album The Cat appeared in 2011, the interim European Vacation EP in late 2013 and only now do we get our hot little hands on new full length The Stars My Destination, the recording studio for which could not be Australian if it tried: a cattle station on the edge of Rockhampton, QLD.
“It is with great pleasure that I announce that my second album, The Stars My Destination, is finally finished. As you may or may not know, it was recorded last year up at the farm in Central Queensland with Dan Luscombe at the helm and with my fellow Gin Clubbers Adrian Stoyles and Angus Agars rounding out the band. We have since added heaps of stuff, including a string quartet to four songs and a bunch of guest appearances from Liz Stringer, John Beddgood and Seja Vogel. It was mixed and mastered by world class gentleman Craig Pilkington at Audrey Studios here in Melbourne,” came the announcement via Ben Salter’s website in late March.
With only an acoustic guitar to guide them out on the road, Salter’s songs are fragile, stark and earthy – a vibe that remains fully intact on this record’s standout cut “Parrot Day”. Elsewhere, Salter’s ensemble of muso mates flesh out proceedings but never overplays its hand. This long player’s full band arrangements keep proceedings on a tight leash; as soon as song steers close to a full rock out, the band pulls it back. The end result sits somewhere between (a less grunty) Gareth Liddiard (of The Drones) and the more radio-friendly end of The Triffids’ catalogue.
Consequently, there’s nothing here that would offend even the most traditional of audiophile tastes but there’s sufficient grit and rasp in Salter’s voice to keep things interesting – beige it is not. Even the deeply unfashionable saxophone makes an appearance on “Vile Rat”.
The Stars My Destination was issued via ABC Music in early May. The vinyl version remains slated for a late June release and it popped up on Spotify Australia almost immediately. It has yet to show on Tidal. What options exist for the music fan that demands a permanent, locally hosted digital copy? Do we entrust our more treasured recording to cloud supply?
One can only assume that Salter’s deal with the ABC kept digital download sales away from his Bandcamp page. The only remaining option for this ardent fan was to order the CD from an online retailer. So eager was I to buy that I ordered two copies by mistake!
Note: the limited 2CD version includes a second disc of eight songs recorded recently at Melbourne’s famous Northcote Club. That’s where you’ll hear several album cuts – and some oldies that expose Salter’s (subconscious?) penchant for Pet Shop Boys song titles – in their original stripped back form.
“Redbook is the ground floor of hi-res audio,” said Skylar Gray in Munich. Gray’s the brain behind AudioQuest’s NightHawk headphones and I could not agree more with his assertion that Redbook is a more than acceptable starting point. I want my digital audio sources to remain untouched by lossy encoders before I want them in a hi-res format.
The hi-res conversation in the audiophile community is LOUD. And that’s a worry because we could be in danger of fiddling while Rome burns: with streaming on the up and up and CD sales on the slide (outside of Japan), what happens when the CD format no longer becomes financially viable for some artists and/or their label, especially those not of mainstream appeal like Ben Salter? If Tidal or Qobuz don’t pick up on the album, where does the layman hungry for a lossless FLAC source his meal? Not all artists sell via Bandcamp and the libraries found at Boomkat and Bleep are extensive but by no means exhaustive.
As audiophiles, we might want to keep watch over CD supply. It’s often the only way to source a release in a non-lossy format.
I wanted to feature this album as some sort of ‘download of the month’ post. Beyond the CD, a lack of lossless supply means that’s not possible so I’m giving away my spare copy of this fine album to one lucky reader in either Australia, New Zealand, the UK or USA. Staying true to Australia’s national character, whinging about this territorial restriction will be ignored!
To enter, simply reply in the comments section below with details of your music server: which make/model? Which operating system? Which playback software? I’ll pull a name from the hat on the last day of this month so please ensure you include a working email address when you comment – no, it doesn’t get published.
Australians are urged to go support young Salter at one (or more) of his live shows next month. As so many have said before me, he’s a national treasure.
- 11/07/15 The Eastern – Ballarat, VIC
- 16/07/15 The Spotted Cow – Toowoomba, QLD
- 17/07/15 Black Bear Lodge – Brisbane, QLD
- 18/07/15 The Bison Bar – Nambour, QLD
- 24/07/15 Factory Floor – Sydney, NSW
- 25/07/15 The Front Gallery – Canberra, ACT
- 31/07/15 The Tote – Melbourne, VIC
Further information: Ben Salter Official Website
UPDATE 19th June: The Stars My Destination is now on Tidal.
UPDATE 9th July: Congratulations to Ian R of NSW, Australia who won the 2xCD.