Anyone that decides to make a double album these days is ambitious with a capital-A, but few can claim rightful ownership of that title like Sarah Slean does with Land and Sea. Who else could make an album with two wildly divergent genres, knowing full well it could blow up in their face, and so thrillingly succeed? It’s an impressive work on both musical and thematic levels – while each disc can (and does) stand on its own, lyrical motifs from one infuse the other, making for a pleasantly cohesive, and impressively consistent, listening experience.
On Land, organs, trumpets, and a full band lend warmth and immediacy to the soulful, questioning “Amen”, accentuate the biting imagery of “Girls Hating Girls” and, on the undeniable standout “Everybody’s On TV”, provide a winking ‘Alleluia!’ chorus behind Slean’s piercing – yet, crucially, empathetic – critique of just how navel-gazing our society has become.
Sea has a more contemplative tone, with Slean’s piano backed by a 23-piece orchestra, but it is no less potent than its cousin Land – “The Right Words”, a stripped-down version of which appeared on an earlier EP, is even more emotional in its incarnation here, and strings hover ominously around the cautionary tale “Napoleon”. “My Eyes & Your Eyes” proves a fitting closer, not only to Sea but to the journey as a whole; with piano as accompaniment, Slean bids the listener goodnight beneath a sky of stars, and one is left with nothing more than the conviction that Land and Sea is not only one of 2011’s most ambitious records, but stands among its most accomplished as well.