People often approach me and ask me “Josh, what do you think music needs more of? By the way I’m a huge fan and love what you do.” I always look them straight in the eye and answer: “we need more music that embraces whimsy and we need more concept albums about traveling into other dimensions.” Lindsay Olsen, who records as Salami Rose Joe Louis (I’m going to refer to her as “Salami” because that seems fun) has delivered my request with her new album, Zdenka 2080, which is delightfully bonkers and one of the year’s most creative records.
It takes place in a dystopian future where, as outlined in the second track, “Octagonal Room,” corporations have used the power of the sun to fuel a giant spaceship. When the earth begins to cool, they flee the planet in their ship, leaving the earthlings to inhabit a cold, dark earth. One of those earthlings then stumbles upon an octagonal room with eight paintings, all of which lead into another dimension, and she searches through each dimension to try to find a way to save earth. This gets even weirder through the album, and I’ll resist sharing more of the plot, partially because I don’t want to give it all away and partially because I’m still not sure if I really understand it (or if I’m supposed to).
The plot is told through occasional expositional narratives backed by the music, but for the most part its purpose is to provide a narrative thread that connects all of the tracks, which are quick 1-2 minute collages of abstract pop that are reminiscent of some of Broadcast’s later work with The Focus Group. Salami’s wispy, soulful vocals combined with her quirky retro-futuristic electronics make for a relaxed mood that lets the listener get sucked in and appreciate her mad creativity at work. She is also a planetary scientist, so there is some appropriate science nerdery in the lyrics with songs called “Diatoms and Dinoflagellates” and “Transformation of a Molecule.”
There aren’t really traditional verses or choruses on Zdenka 2080. There is more a collection of intriguing sounds, with memorable keyboard hooks or vocal melodies coming and going quickly as Salami throws all of her musical ideas out there. “Meet Zee in 3-D/Third Dimension” has a beautiful dreamy segment that is probably my favorite part of the album thus far. After a brief keyboard-backed narration at the start, “Love the Sun” turns into a more upbeat piece of lounge pop that would make Stereolab proud. While many concept albums go for epic scale, Zdenka 2080 is strengthened by its economy of sound and thought, which gives it a wide variety of sounds that don’t overstay their welcome.
On paper (or screen, I guess) this might all sound like a bit much. In practice, Salami weaves all of these elements of the music and story together in a way that feels cohesive. In the context of music now, this is a really refreshing album — one that commits to its ambitious concept and fully embraces the idea of music as a way to expand the listener’s mind, to make them think and wonder. These days, I get a lot of joy out of hearing music that is so willing to be quirky and strange.