The Seattle trio Saeta’s previous album, Resign to Ideal, took me by complete surprise. I’ve long regretted not putting the album higher on my best-of-2002 lists, but what’s past is past. I won’t make the same mistake of undervaluing We are Waiting All for Hope.
While Resign was produced by the venerable Kramer, on We are Waiting, Steve Albini mans the boards, and he brings out every beautiful note on this release perfectly. The trio features primarily guitar, piano, and cello, with the gravelly voice of Matt Menovcik mixing with the angelic voice of Lesli Wood.
Dubbed chamber-pop, this style is part orchestrated beauty, part pop- and rock-based music. It may sound odd on the surface, but with such esteemed musicians as these, it creates a startlingly brilliant sound, beautiful and moving yet upbeat and instantly appealing.
One of the album’s most moving tracks opens the release. “Can You Forgive” features a perfect combination of Menovcik’s and Wood’s vocals, singing the melancholy/sweet chorus of “Can you forgive? Can you forgive the one who hurt you?” After a light, otherworldly opening, “Anywhere but Here” builds nicely on acoustic guitar and cello, one of the more up-tempo songs on the release. The sweet, haunting strings and rich, deep piano tones perfectly compliment Menovcik’s voice on the lovely “Alright,” and Wood accompanies him wonderfully. The closer, “Everything,” is everything I love about this band: the song builds, the cello and piano mix beautifully with the acoustic guitar, and the vocals are breathtaking.
Wood sings the rich “Grand Canyon” from the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, here done as an almost gospel-like track filled with rich power. By contrast, “You Fade” is sung by Menovcik, and while his rough voice may take getting used to, it’s surprisingly effective, and the rich tones of the cello compliment it perfectly. “Tonight, I’ll Have to Dream You Here” is all Wood, a terrific song of female-led beauty and deep personal lyrics. It almost makes me want to cry. And if that wasn’t heartbreaking enough, the torch-song “Last Night I Dreamt that Somebody Loved Me” is as heartbreaking as they come. This is surely the way this Smiths song was meant to be performed.
We are Waiting for All Hope is Saeta’s fourth album since 1999, and a sampling of songs from each at the band’s website will show that there’s not a bad track in the catalog. But there’s no doubt that We are Waiting is a masterpiece, both in musicianship and production. This album is sweet, beautiful, intense, and rich, filled with personal songwriting and immense instrumentation. I won’t make the mistake again of leaving this one off the best-of list for 2004.