50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't be Wrong by Alabama-raised Austin-based Caroline Sallee aka Caroline Says, is the fruit of an ambivalent phase of early adulthood. There are rays of youth beaming through this music, but they never outshine a kind of maturity that betrays the fact that Sallee was just 22 years old when 50 Million was made. Our trek starts with album-opener "Winter Is Cold" which somewhat fittingly shares its title with the 1969 Wendy & Bonnie song of the same name. Bouncy, alternate finger-picking marks a gentle beginning, safely and surely generating momentum while setting up the story through a frank quatrain: "I've never been to the West Coast, I've always heard it's the best though." Sallee then immediately confesses the kind of realization that's a benchmark of setting out into the world alone: "I think it's okay, just not all they say."
That kind of dichotomy is at play throughout 50 Million Elvis Fans Can't be Wrong. Even the album title seems to refer to the contrast between what our elders tell us and the perspectives we form out of our own experiences. There's a vacillation between idealism and realism, and it expresses itself musically in the hairpin turns from gentle folk into brazen experimental flourishes, like on "Funeral Potatoes." The track opens with lilting, somber, Satie-esque piano, but at the halfway point, typical choices of song structure and transition are discarded in favor of a screeching, static-washed loop of violin and feedback that transcends the formality of songcraft, becoming something altogether more daring and collage-like.
The more band-driven songs on 50 Million recall an early-1990's style of production in the way chorus-twinged electric guitars and tight, papery drumbeats point our mind's eye to the West Coast sunset, like on the mid-album standout "Gravy Days." But what makes these more caffeinated moments special is their constant proximity to gentleness and reflection. Sallee decorates the background of most songs with hushed humming that could stand alone as a minimalist-ambient choral album, and when employed on her songs, elevates the final product to an astral level.