If I’m being completely honest, it’s been a bit more difficult than I expected to write a review for this album. Not because it’s bad, but because I personally don’t have much experience with grief, not in this way at least. Listening to each song in Summer Salt‘s newest album Campanita though, I felt like I was delicately being shown what it means to love somebody and to lose them, and subsequently to decide to handle it in the healthiest way you can.
In 2021, Summer Salt’s frontman Matthew Terry unexpectedly lost two of his closest relatives. One of them was his sister Madeleine, who was nicknamed Campanita (Tinkerbell in Spanish) by their grandmother. This album is undoubtedly an ode to Matt’s late sister, and it seems to me like it was a way for him to leave a record of all the good memories and times he got to share with her. It is incredibly beautiful and touching, and it demonstrates with great care how much love there was between the siblings
The opening track was the lead single for the project, titled just like the LP, “Campanita” sounds and feels like childhood, as it holds the name of the Peter Pan character that we all knew and loved growing up. Matthew sings about his “best friend” and how much he misses her, even though he’s certain she’s still with him somehow. “And I love the way she talks me into living,” sings Terry, acknowledging how the passing of the person he loved the most has motivated him to live to the fullest.
“Tortilla Soup”, “Macaroon”, “Best Part of Me”, and “Back To”, follow the same themes of innocence and nostalgia, reminiscing on good (or better) times when things were simpler. “Tortilla Soup” doesn’t only have a title that screams ‘we make indie music, you guys’, but also sounds just like a perfect indie song with a hopeful, fairytale-like melody and quiet but constant drums. On the other hand, “Supermoon”, the second single from the album, sounds like a song that must be listened to by the beach, or at least at a summer festival surrounded by other indie kids wearing flowy dresses and sparkly make up. It’s an amazing single with strokes of Mac DeMarco and The Backseat Lovers, but with a more youngful motif.
Just like on their 2021 album Sequoia Moon with “Feather Fall” and “Campus Blue,” there is a fully instrumental track titled “Fire Sign.” As a not-so-proud astrology girly myself, I analyzed this one more than I probably should have, and came to the conclusion that it does indeed sound like a Sagittarius (Matthew’s wife’s zodiac sign) would sound like if they were a song. It’s confident and cheerful enough to mark a presence, but also calm and secure enough to be friendly and embracing.
The second half of the LP becomes softer as “Dew Daydream” and “Indigo” come around. In “Dew Daydream”, Matt addresses his sister by name: “Wherever I am, oh sweet Madeleine, you’re the first that I’m looking for”. It sounds like a lullaby, a song that allows the singer to daydream and reunite with his sister in a different plane. It makes you want to cry but in the most beautiful way possible. The melody and acoustic production reflect the way Matt feels when thinking about Madeleine: even the thought of her brings him peace. “Let’s just pretend, each day I’ll see you again.” Although it’s a sad feeling, it’s a hopeful song that invites us to remember the happiness our loved ones brought us to ease the pain of their absence.
This hopeful approach to grief is revisited in “Carry On,” Summer Salt’s latest release prior to the full-lenght “Campanita.” It’s more upbeat than the rest of the tracklist, and calls us to come back up from the sadness. “In time I won’t get over you, oh but no sweat;” the difference between moving on and carrying on becomes evident, where the first mostly means forgetting and/or leaving something in the past, while the latter acknowledges that you can’t fully get over certain things, but you can continue making the best of it with what you have. After all, you owe it to yourself. It’s a great single that without context also works as a love song, or a self-love song for that matter.
Potentially taking off guard those who are not that familiar with the band’s discography, “Sana” sounds like they’re tip-toeing around a song, and then jump all in by singing a quintessential Hispanic nursery rhyme. “Sana, sana, colita de rana. Si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana” translates to “Heal, heal [or “there, there”] little frog tail, if you don’t heal today, you’ll heal tomorrow”. It’s the kind of thing your parents would tell you when you scratched your knee as a child, almost like magic words for you to stop crying and understand that you’ll be okay eventually.
One of the most heartbreaking moments in the album comes at the end, with the closing track “Gotta Go To Know”, a phrase that can still be seen as Madeleine’s Instagram bio. The song is a farewell poem to Madeleine, a letter thanking her for showing him the way to live. Terry understands now why his sister went through life the way she did, by trying and doing things and learning while potentially failing. This buoyant outlook towards life after the death of a loved one from this and every song from Supermoon surprised me, but also gave me something that I will forever hold on to: the idea of dealing with some of the hardest things in life in a way that allows you to grow through the pain and the memories.
Summer Salt’s promise of a bright future even through the bad times feels like a concept we all need nowadays, or maybe something we will need in the future, and this album will always be there for that. The heartfelt and earnest intention behind the music can be felt both through the lyrics and the careful choice of instruments that never sound dissonant. Just like they have in the past, Summer Salt reminds us of the good things in life, the warmer days and brighter colors, and the affection from past, current and future loved ones.
Campanita is out now.