Salem (US)
King Night


4.0
excellent

Review

by Conrad Tao EMERITUS
December 27th, 2010 | 40 replies | 9,042 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Just listen.

Remind me again what purpose taxonomy is supposed to have? Oh, right; it's supposed to make classifying things easier. But the increasing trendification of music and subsequent emergence of countless microgenres has made navigating the new-music landscape more difficult than ever. We've reached a point where Carles' writing about some nonexistent bullshit like "rape gaze" legitimizes it as a proper genre, where the tiniest blog has the potential to set off the next big musical trend, where nothing and everything is entirely up for grabs. And tying all of this together, settled comfortably within the countless contradictions of our modern thirty-second-attention-span culture, is Salem. The Michigan band's debut full-length, King Night, is insistently weird, the sort of stuff you'd play for your friends purely to catch their reaction; consequently, it has fallen prey to lazy "x meets y" criticism. Gucci Mane produced by Fever Ray. Moby with more than a hint of David Lynch. CocoRosie crossed with some ghouls hanging around the gas station.

Such hypothetical comparisons are meaningless in the larger scheme of themes. Salem don't really defy categorization; they simply don't give a fuck about what you think of them. A disastrous live performance, unintelligible lyrics, growing suspicions that Salem and the whole unfortunately named "witch house" scene have been trolling us all along - it's all met with an indifferent shrug. Founding member John Holland admits to having been a prostitute, a cokehead, a junkie; chances are, a couple of Brooklyn Vegan commenters trashing his band aren't going to make him shed too many tears. So there you have it - Salem don't take themselves seriously; they're just messing around. Except that King Night is too sonically compelling to be easily dismissed as the next disposable flavor of the month.

The band's influences are recognizable - those pitched-down raps in particular recall The Knife's hallowed Silent Shout - but these songs coalesce into a sonic world that is aesthetically striking, often nightmarish, and utterly singular. The synthesizers on "Asia" sound more like a swarm of locusts than actual melodies, the bassline of "Trapdoor" is obviously synthetic yet sounds more swampy than anything off of Avey Tare's Down There, and the superb album opener "King Night" transforms a choir singing "O Holy Night" into something decidedly less reverent. The music seems to exist in a perpetual druggy haze, what with its throbbing, blown-out production. But while King Night is a harrowing listen, it's also thrilling and surprisingly accessible; "Sick" is unrelentingly creepy, but its monstrous beat is propellent and Holland's choppsed-and-screwed stoner-rap has genuine swagger. There's a lot of unresolved tension in Salem's slow-burning songs, and a track like "Redlights" takes this imbalance and runs with it; Heather Marlatt's vocals never fully come into focus, and the song eschews structure for atmosphere. It would be infuriating if it weren't so undeniably beautiful.

Salem are interesting to talk about because they exemplify the telescoping of culture into tiny fragments that may not even add up to create a coherent whole. But King Night transcends that extramusical hodgepodge, transcends the zeitgeist that gave birth to "witch house"; hell, it pretty much transcends any concept of an "age" or "generation". If we look at it through this prism, Salem's projection of apathy makes sense; they don't really care about how their music relates to the current state of culture or anything affected like that. That's all just hot air thrown at them by pseudo-journalists and their ilk, pointless buzzwords that distract from the band itself. And so, to those who espouse their self-righteous anti-trend dogma, to those who hated witch house before it ever even made an impact, to those who dissect every aspect of an album except the music itself, I say: just listen.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2010



10258 Comments


haha i'm glad you brought up genres and how useless they can sometimes be


why aren't you submitting a contributor application eh

Digging: The Bilinda Butchers - Heaven

conradtao
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Figured this deserved a review, plus I'm not really planning on doing anything tonight because it is so cold...perfect weather for this album, actually.

conradtao
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

I dunno, I might submit an application before January 3, might not. I mean, I don't know what I would write in terms of "what sets you apart from other users" or whatever.

klap
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2010



10258 Comments


i don't know, maybe the writing quality. also the releases you review tend to be lesser known

conradtao
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Mm, I'll think about it..maybe bang out a couple more reviews over the next week or so before I write the application up.

Have you heard this, Rudy?

iranscam
December 27th 2010



469 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

album's p good and this is a good review

also this is obv screwgaze

conradtao
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

that sounds like it could actually be a pretty cool genre

klap
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2010



10258 Comments


i haven't but i'm not a huge fan of the recced by reviewer so i dk

Irving
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2010



7144 Comments


Excellent review, Conrad. Keep doing this and you'll be a shoo-in for Contrib for sure.

joshuatree
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



3743 Comments


this review is great, easily contributor-quality. apply dude.

also album's sorta sick, surprised it hadn't been reviewed here

and this is totally rapegaze gize

conradtao
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks, guys. I applied :3

Irving
Staff Reviewer
December 27th 2010



7144 Comments


Solid application Conrad. Look forward to seeing that shiny black text under your name soon ;)

Xenophanes
Emeritus
December 27th 2010



10585 Comments


Yeah man you're pretty solid, I hope to see more of you, and good luck w/ the contributor application.


Pos.

Digging: United Nations - The Next Four Years

conradtao
Emeritus
December 28th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks, Xeno!

Yotimi
December 28th 2010



6442 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

King Night's my new favorite Christmas song. Good review man

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
December 28th 2010



3762 Comments


"Hi, I'm Conrad Tao, and what sets me apart is that I'm awesome"

Start with that, see how you go.

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

conradtao
Emeritus
December 28th 2010



2088 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

thanks yotimi, figured you'd dig this

alex: heh

Kiran
Emeritus
December 28th 2010



6000 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

this review is great, easily contributor-quality. apply dude.

been saying this since day 1, if you haven't applied yet, get it done buddy!

Digging: Spoon - They Want My Soul

BallsToTheWall
December 28th 2010



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

AWESOME.

BallsToTheWall
December 28th 2010



44164 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Everyone needs rapegaze in their life.



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