Cristina Cano, the woman behind solo project Siren and the Sea, always has lots of oils, salts, scents and rituals going on during her beloved baths. But what’s a calming bath without some soothing melodies to self-care with? That’s the question that occurred to Cano before she began humming the tune and conceptualizing her latest full-length For Bathing, which she wrote while living in Portland in 2018-19.
“That year for whatever reason I was taking a little bit of a break from performing and I was like a little more introverted, and finding that space where I needed to retreat inside—self reflecting,” Cano explains. She eventually found meditation through bathing.
“I was taking one of my stoney-baloney baths and I was actually listening to ‘Honeycomb’ by Kadhja Bonet which is like one of my favorite songs. And I remember thinking, like, the flow of the song is so perfect for bathing,” Cano remembers, adding that she wanted to embody that same feeling in her own sound. “And sure enough, I really crafted the flow of the track listing for [the album] through sort of going through the bathing process.”
Cano’s May 2021 release continues a long Siren and the Sea tradition of making poetic music loaded with aquatic themes, or as Cano has dubbed her own sound, swimwave. Submerged in her own imaginary world, Cano embodies a sort of electro-pop-singing mermaid character.
In real life, Cano has always lived in a coastal climate. She was based in Portland for roughly 12 years until moving to LA’s Koreatown a week before the COVID-19 pandemic started in March 2020. Prior to that, she moved around a lot—she was born in Hawaii, and grew up in Miami. “I lived in Santa Cruz right before moving to Portland. So I always sort of lived near the ocean and I think I was really craving it.”
Cano says she’s very grateful to be closer to the ocean’s shores now, and goes on walks daily at the beach to feel grounded—getting sunshine has become a vital part of her self-care routine, along with stretching, and more challenging efforts like consistently drinking enough water.
Cano’s self-produced For Bathing album spans 10 tracks, begins with the sounds of running water, and features guest musicians such as Ethan Fox Tucker with his groovy bass. From beginning to end, Cano says the album is ordered specifically for the journey of her soothing and meditative baths, which include a potion of epson salts, bath bombs, or essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus, and cedar are her favorites). Since baths are such a vital part of Cano’s self-care routine, it’s not too surprising that this is where she was first inspired to start writing the album. Cano ended up writing several songs in the bath, including “Fountain of Youth.”
“I was just taking a bath and it came to me, and then I got out, and started writing it. And so, to me, [the song] really felt flowy... filling up a tub of energy, which is something I've said before cause that's how I felt when I was writing it. It was like the beginning of the bath, all those good vibey feelings.”
She wanted to invoke a sense of “You're coming into the bath with all these previous feelings, all these things that need to get worked through. And usually for any meditation process—but [especially] for me bathing—I would like to find that moment of just like deep, deep reflection in the middle, and then start to re-energize, and like come out of it. And so that's how I wanted the track listing to be, and lyrically as well.”
Just like a siren, the relaxing, yet climactic album feels hypnotizing and awakening at times with its lush production of synths and sonic seascapes. Highlights include lead singles like “Secrets” (and its accompanying music video for a gleaming look at her songwriting process), and “Run,” as well as “The Way Out,” which sounds like it could be a song for a Broadway musical where a young woman (perhaps one who’s half fish) sings about the transformational power of simply taking a bath. In the chorus she croons: “It's just a way out/My only way to feel this all over again/And by the fact that I am washing my own skin/Is complimentary to the state I think I’m in/It's just a way out/My only way to slip beneath and back to me/To finally see the things that I don’t always see/To lay my body back and let it breathe.”
Meanwhile, “A Dream” begins and ends with the familiar earthly sound of a phone hanging off the hook. “I wanted it to feel like when... there's a sound happening when you're sleeping and it's being incorporated into your dream and then you start to come out of it, and now you realize it is what it is—that was what I was trying to recreate,” Cano says. “It's the sound of a phone being off the hook in the room, but in my dream it becomes like a through-line for the song. And that song was really personal for me, so I wanted a lot of it to feel like you were dreaming.”
For Bathing is the follow-up to 2017’s This Time with Feeling, which Cano says was somewhat of a coming-of-age project. While Cano says pretty much all of her projects under this moniker have been self reflective, this one feels even more so. “I was really digging a little deeper into myself in a way that I hope is universal,” she says. And indeed, Cano’s come a long way since beginning to write songs at age 10; forming a garage band with her best friend at age 14; and then imitating popular indie-pop singers like Joanna Newson and Regina Spektor in her earlier years performing as a solo artist from 2008 to 2012.
“I was really digging a little deeper into myself in a way that I hope is universal.”
“I tried it all," she says. "It wasn't like an intentional ‘trying it on,’ but I think anytime you're a singer or songwriter, your first steps are sort of imitation. I think it was with This Time with Feeling, that album I put out in 2017, that I felt like I really finally found it... I finally felt a little more myself, but I'm sure my voice isn’t for everyone either. Like, I’m not mainstream and so I'm just having to accept that.”
While Cano wrote For Bathing a couple years ago, it has the ability to resonate in 2021, especially with the challenges brought on by the pandemic, a difficult time for many when self-care is more important than ever.
“When I finally listened to the mixes and the masters [of the album] with the [bathing] ritual, and was completely done, I cried a little because it’s like ‘I did it. I made the thing and it works and it flows,’” Cano says. “And I mean, there's a lot of people who hate bathing, and that's totally cool. And I hope that this works for them outside of water as well... just sort of more figurative,” says Cano. “Take a friggin’ soul shower.”
When the pandemic is officially over, Cano says she’ll be excited to get gussied up again, and would love to come back to Portland to play a show... as well as kiss everybody she knows on the face. Final For Bathing track “Run” exemplifies the freeing feeling of washing away something deeper than dirt when you’re in the tub, and what happens at the end of a bath.
"[‘Run’] is supposed to be really energizing. We’re shaking off all these feelings we've just processed and we’re just running towards our future,” the songstress explains. “It wasn't until after the pandemic, where I was like ‘Oh shit, that was really spot on for where I'm at now personally, and also where I feel like we are as a society personally. We're all just like, “Okay, well that was a mindfuck. Let’s move forward.”