Singer-songwriter Eileen Torrez’s latest album, Water + Salt, is 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 Trump-era 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 artist 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.
The edgy single, The Kind, showcases the new record’s bold exploration of fresh artistic avenues. It’s a sleek and stirring R&B and hip-hop-flavored track propelled by rugged beats and dipped in moody layers of ethereal electro-pop ambience. Built upon rounds of body-based percussion and layered vocal harmonies, the song smolders with the stirring sense of untapped power. Eileen’s declarative lyrics are both poetic and sharply blunt. One choice passage reads: I am fury/I am mother/I am the force of love the fire that comes to wake you up/You better hear my sound!! The Kind is a beautifully angry anthem written at the height of the Trump presidency and finalized in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“‘The Kind’ came to me differently than other songs have—it was like this piercing signal from the ground through my feet that electrocuted me with its intent. I felt like it was my responsibility to write it,” Eileen says. “The first line: ‘I am not the kind to give up, to get over, I am not the kind to let go,’ is one I really relate to because that's how I think of myself as a person. But as more of the lyrics came to me and I sang the song myself for the first time, I realized it was not really me singing; it was a voice that needed to speak through me.” “The Kind” demands listeners’ attention with a resonant cry for justice in the midst of the environmental and social destruction of our time.