salvia palth Pulls Back the Lens on Years of Transformation on last chance to see

Following a decade-plus hiatus from releasing new music, enigmatic DIY titan Daniel Johann Lines surprise drops the expansive and reflective follow-up to the viral cult classic of his teen years, melanchole.

Music Reviews salvia palth
salvia palth Pulls Back the Lens on Years of Transformation on last chance to see

If you followed DIY music in 2010s—especially if you were active on the moodier sides of Tumblr—you’re probably familiar with the melanchole album cover: the photograph of a floppy-haired kid with ear gauges and a Desert Storm shirt, all drenched in a watery blue filter that looks the way the record sounds—sleepy and subaquatic. Tumblr’s heyday serendipitously overlapped with the ‘10s Bandcamp boom. With the two platforms locked into a symbiotic circle, lo-fi slacker rock, bedroom pop and fourth-wave emo thrived on both sites—creating the perfect storm to launch acts like Mac Demarco, Car Seat Headrest and Soccer Mommy into indie stardom. Among these success stories was an anonymous singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who went by the name salvia palth, later revealed to be New Zealand-based then-15-year-old Daniel Johann Lines. His debut LP, melanchole became a cult classic whose drowsy ambient bummer pop found its way into messy teenage bedrooms across the internet and the world. In all its mumbly, understated glory, melanchole spoke to a generation’s ennui.

In recent years, as TikTok has emerged as the dominant host platform for online youth culture, salvia palth has seen a striking resurgence among the younger half of Gen-Z and, as of 2024, has over 7.5 million monthly listeners on Spotify. A 2010s Bandcamp darling blowing up on TikTok years after the fact is hardly an isolated occurrence (Are the kids still doing the Pinegrove Shuffle?), but it’s quite a feat for an artist who hasn’t released any new music since 2013 (in 2016, salvia palth uploaded a remastered version of melanchole). His “hit” song, so to speak, “i was all over her,” has over 480 million streams and has been used in over 100,000 videos, thriving as accompaniment to crying selfies and videos tagged “nostalgiacore,” or “liminal space.”

In a 2023 interview with Devon Chodzin for Paste, Lines looked back on his then-only album from a cautious distance, proud of what he’d created as a teenager but viewing the songs as darkly immature and not representative of his personal or creative identity as an adult. melanchole was a product of a depressive and impoverished adolescence spent in small-town isolation. Now that Lines can reflect on that time period and the music he made during it with the self-awareness that comes with adulthood, he’s admitted that, while he understands the record’s resonance with teenagers, he’s ready to move on and create something that more accurately reflects where he’s at now.

Which brings us to 2024. 11 years after his quietly revolutionary debut, Lines has surprise-released his second album as salvia palth. last chance to see is a comeback record that, instead of just picking up where his last project left off, encapsulates the influences that have colored the years in-between. Some hallmarks of the first salvia palth record are still present on last chance to see. Lines’ sleepy, garbled delivery and meandering song structures remain, though on most tracks the production is noticeably brighter and cleaner, and the individual instruments are more distinct. The melodrama and perishing vocal fry on songs like “always freaking out” and “stabbed in the small of the back” makes them feel as though Lines has dusted off his lingering post-adolescent feelings and held them up to the light.

In terms of tempo and genre, last chance to see is noticeably more varied than melanchole was, reflecting how, like his worldview, Lines’ sonic perspective has expanded. The robust horn sections on “that’s what” and the dirge-like groove under Lines’ chant of “Can’t think about what you’ve done / til there’s no ice under the sun” on “best friend on the cross” fall well in line with 5th-wave trailblazers like glass beach and Home Is Where who wear their Radiohead, Neutral Milk Hotel and Dismemberment Plan influences not necessarily on their sleeves, but as tricks up them. The slow-building “you wouldn’t ask a fire to stop” starts out as a spacey ambient pop track, gradually drawing its instrumentals and vocal harmonies closer and closer together until they ignite into an explosive math rock mad-dash. The opener, “no intro,” slides in with a breezy, electronic yacht-rock-goes-techno beat (yes, you heard that right). The beachy groove of “i’m gonna find out” sounds like something off the Wii Sports Resort soundtrack, starkly dissonant from the track’s grief-stricken lyrics: “It cut me right in two / That’s what it’s like to hear the news.”

last chance to see arrives after seven years in the making, a tumultuous process that included the death of Lines’ father in 2020. “I didn’t make anything for a year after his death, but it became the emotional crux of the album,” Lines says. In his mourning, Lines ended up turning to his late father’s favorite artists, like Bjork and Captain Beefheart, for inspiration. The debilitating shock and anguish are palpable on the lyrics of “how many will i make,” a paralyzing slowcore track with some of his most deeply-cutting lyricism to date: “To the survivors of future wars / Please put this ship back on its course / I saw the writing on the floor / I just can’t do it anymore.” His despair feels both heavier and clearer than it ever has before.

Lines has also said that he wanted his sophomore record to avoid the stagnation and dead-end feelings of melanchole, having deliberately returned to the salvia palth moniker. He felt as though his debut lacked “prognosis” and was too mired in its own loneliness to offer a way out of it, which it wasn’t necessarily under any obligation to do. A great record can save your life, but a record doesn’t have to save your life to be great. Lines contends with his unorthodox career trajectory on “still i struggle,” offering some insight on the talent/practice ratio and the randomness of “making it” in the music industry (whatever that even means): “I’m here to say there’s nothing to it / It’s nothing special, anyone could do it / But I still struggle just to get through it.” Lines has succeeded in expanding the idea of what the salvia palth project could be, outgrowing his previous material while still respecting it from a healthy distance. On last chance to see, he doesn’t give us the answers—he doesn’t have them himself. Lines is not always sure what he has to look forward to, but he’s looking forward nevertheless.

Grace Robins-Somerville is a writer from Brooklyn, New York, currently based in Wilmington, North Carolina. She is pursuing an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Her work has appeared in The Alternative, Merry-Go-Round Magazine, Post-Trash, Swim Into The Sound and her “mostly about music” newsletter, Our Band Could Be Your Wife.

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