Eileen Torrez mixes it up on her striking new folk-pop album Water + Salt — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
A coming-of-age statement wrought with elegant detail and spirited cross-genre exploration, the 12-song album brims with poetic self-reflection and incisive social commentary, charting a path for the listener beyond days of despair into an encouraging future. It manages the rare feat of being highly introspective and broadly resonant.
“This album is about trying to find myself while grappling with all the darkness in the world,” the Oakland-based Torrez says. “There is a lot of love and elevation at the core of every song. I’m a hopeful person who faces challenges head on, and this time in my life was about me stepping into that ability.”
Eileen was born and raised in Corrales, New Mexico (a small town outside Albuquerque), in a music-filled Latino household with five brothers and sisters. She studied classical guitar from the age of 11 until high school, and sang in her middle school mariachi band. Classical guitar’s complex fingerpicking patterns and nuanced chord shapes have made indelible impacts on her signature sensibility.
She describes her aesthetic as “Folk ’n’ B,” a melding of subtly dexterous Americana musicianship and slinky R&B swagger. Sprinkles of country, early aughts pop, and 1990s alt-rock also season her songs. Eileen’s vocals have an angelic tonality with a touch of twang that combine to infuse her work with biting observations and raw-nerved emotionality. Her lyrics employ clever metaphors, poetic turns of phrases, and twists on the biblical imagery that flooded her Catholic childhood.
“I have a certain reverence toward writing pop music. I want the love songs to be especially descriptive, and I want the angry songs to cut to the bone,” she says. “I’m a feminist writer and performer, and I center my work on intersectional feminist themes, but I pride myself in having my music speak to all parts of life in inspiring ways. I want everyone to be able to find themselves in it.”
Eileen wrote all of the songs, performed all of the vocals, and played most of the guitar tracks on Water + Salt. She co-produced the album alongside producer, engineer, and mixer George Rosenthal of The Complex SF. Featured Bay Area instrumentalists include keyboardist Elliott Peltzman of The Stone Foxes on the song Summer, pedal steel player Travis Snyder of Catch Pritchard on the track I Don’t Care, and pop artist Nikbo on keys for the song Stars. In addition, Jae Quisol, an up-and-coming North Carolina-based songwriter and producer, helped Eileen arrange the song The Kind. Previously, Eileen issued her 2016 solo debut, Honey + Zest.
Water + Salt is a powerful late-20s missive of growth, renewal, redemption, and the value of carving one’s own path. There are songs of new love and heartbreak, songs of hope and hopelessness, and nostalgic moments of fleeting youth offset by hard truths that come with age. These contrasts are unplanned — the results of the paradoxes inherent in getting older and wiser — but they stream through clearly, buoyed by Eileen’s poignant messages.
The Easy Road wafts a breezy 1990s folk-pop spirit, and fittingly sends a farewell to childhood innocence in the wake of Eileen’s little brother being diagnosed and surviving Stage 4 cancer. The song’s lyrics document timeless moments of youth without being overly sentimental. Here, Eileen sings: “Deep bass is booming out the speaker / And I like the way your hand moves in waves out the window to the sound / Gas tank can’t keep up with this speed / But we don’t need to worry ‘bout our destinations now.”
The soulful Sunshine showcases the span of her richly dynamic vocals from the sensual expressiveness of contemporary R&B singers to the warm intimacy of country and folk-pop vocalists. Here, groove is paramount, but Eileen’s sparkling chord work eases through the song’s jazzy harmonic changes. This is the other side of heartbreak — where you dust yourself off and strut ahead. The climate change-themed pop-rocker Summer features some of her most ominously beautiful lyrics. Her lines here are tight and literate: “The ice is melting ‘fore our eyes / Waters rising, soon we all must pay the price.”
The album’s finale Big Hair is a sparse voice and guitar storyteller song with lyrics that are both playful and deeply personal. “This is one of my favorites because it’s very specific,” says Eileen. “It’s about my experience as a Latina, having big voluminous curly hair and the struggle of having to relate to people’s experiences of you through your most noticeable feature. It’s about wondering who you are without that or because of that — or beyond that.”