Each song on Sally Seltmann's Heart That's Pounding goes for the pop jugular. The bright hooks and indelible choruses come on like bursts of fresh air, sparkling in Seltmann's sunny mood and encapsulating decades of pop history—from early '60s Brill Building girl-group records to '70s piano-based songwriter albums to '80s radio hits. You've actually heard Seltmann's pop hooks before, even without realizing it; she cowrote Feist's "1234," which went on to soundtrack an inescapable iPod commercial.
You also may have heard her work as New Buffalo, the artistic alias Seltmann has recorded under until now. From a hotel room in Toronto, the Australian singer-songwriter explains the change of identity. "There are a few reasons why it happened," she says. "One being that I would always get quite nervous starting a live show and thinking, 'Do I say, "I'm New Buffalo" or "We're New Buffalo"?' I also composed some music for a play in Australia and they credited me as New Buffalo, and I thought, 'I want to just be credited as Sally Seltmann.' So stuff like that, just a few different things that happened that were all pointing in the same direction."
The irony is that her work under the name New Buffalo—fluid, impressionistic songs that at first draw close, then flutter evasively away from the pop jangle underpinning her melodies—was frequently just Seltmann recording by herself. With Heart That's Pounding, the backbeat is nailed firmly to the floor, and the record—despite bearing only Seltmann's name—is actually more of a band effort that features other musicians, including Seltmann's husband, Darren Seltmann of the Avalanches.
The album is full of love songs, but Seltmann toys with convention even while staying within a pop framework. While the songs are full of palpable joy, they aren't blindly devotional pledges of love. In fact, one of the recurring lyrical themes is about the ongoing craving for space and freedom. "I think that's a really honest reflection of the type of person I am," Seltmann says. "Because I am quite introverted and I do have a tendency to feel like I need space sometimes. But on the other hand, I really, really am madly in love with my husband. It's funny, because the song 'Set Me Free,' where it kind of goes on about that—one of my brothers came over to my house and I played it for him for the first time and he said, 'Ohhh, this is about you, isn't it?' Because he knew me as a child even, being like, 'I need space by myself.'"
What makes Heart That's Pounding so rewarding—beyond the immediate sugar rush of the first few listens—is its awareness of pop convention and its historical knowledge of the hit parade. At times, its songs evoke the choirboy harmonies of the Zombies; at others, Loudon Wainwright (who's name-dropped in the title track); yet others are like a synth-burbling modern-day version of Motown. "Franc [Tétaz]—who I produced the album with—was really into playing me all different songs that he loved and [saying] what he loved about them, in a way to help us decide what type of album we were going to make," says Seltmann. "I just remember him saying, 'Tell me a song that you love,' and I can't remember what I said, and then he goes, 'Now, what do you really love?' and I must have just said 'Manic Monday' by the Bangles."
Unlike previous shows, which featured Seltmann on her own, this tour she's playing with multi-instrumentalist Jessica Venables and husband Darren on drums (the long-awaited Avalanches follow-up is gradually being worked on, Seltmann reports). The Seltmanns recently had a child, which tinted the record's mood. "I had written most of the songs before I found out I was pregnant, but then I wrote 'Harmony to My Heartbeat'—that's my 'I'm really excited and I'm having a baby' song. When I started doing all this preproduction work on the album and was deciding what kind of album I wanted to make, I was in the middle of my pregnancy. I think many women typically feel really great in the middle of their pregnancy, so I was waking up in the morning and thinking, 'Wow, everything's wonderful!' I think that's one of the reasons why it is such an uplifting pop album. I was feeling pretty good."