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SALEM: King Night Track-By-Track Review
Kev Kharas , July 20th, 2010 06:29

"I’ve never known anyone to make music as physically affecting as Salem’s," says our Kev Kharas as he gives his first impressions of King Night

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'King Night'

Trajectories are clear, here, after just seven seconds: King Night is to be SALEM on blast. A beginning blare of static FM-metal guitar exploits your remnant memory of such things (strange frequencies found with a dial at night, etc) to conjure murk immediately. A voice reaches up out of it; sounding swamped in whatever the opposite of primordial ooze is, carrying with it the most chilling and broken “I love you”. The voice sounds like it has followed unrequited love to its ultimate conclusion. The suggestion is that someone is going to die very unpleasantly, very soon.

After this comes the blast – synths rendered with an alien grace, ominous choral wailing, percussion torn from shuddering computer operating systems. ‘King Night’ is a colossal, razing din covered in the blood of the private, arcane religiosity Salem’s name and pentagrams suggest – self-sacrifice music that seems keen to drive the mind and the soul from host body by visiting immense pain upon it.


Salem being Salem, the physicality of the opener’s only ramped up. ‘Asia’’s slung, industrial bass and shattering pane snares reach out through ruptured speakers to rattle eyes in their sockets – your ears won’t get the chance to ‘hear’ half of this track before the surface of your body does, confusing the traffic of electronic impulses to your temporal lobe. Nerve signals drive at each other rather than in unison direction. There are head on collisions. Woven throughout the resultant mess are victorious synth surges, and coy, girlish baby babble, making ‘Asia’ as strange and disorientating an experience as waking up at the wheel with sleep paralysis. This is Crash for confused cells: Ballard in your blood.


If the impression so far is of an entirely hideous, grim record, that impression’s wrong. The magic of Salem’s toil is in their forcing together of two extremes (the irresistibly pretty, the rapaciously ugly) like repellent magnets. The pretty arrives in the pitches of Heather Marlatt’s ecstatic, desperate throat and in those guitars and synths that cut through the tracks in the same way Kevin Shields wove melody into his knits. The way the component parts of Salem’s songs seem repulsed by the others they share their minutes with is a source of great tension, and it brings to mind’s eye a tragedy of misplacement – there is the sense throughout this record that the fates have thrust not just the wrong ideas together here but the wrong people. Hear it when Marlatt’s voice quivers beneath oppressive drum spills. There’s something abusive about it, and it’s an abuse that’s utterly captivating.


The most obviously chopped and screwed track thus far: Marlatt’s vocals doubled up into threatening sex as the crushing demon slurs his words alongside her. Those choral chants return to warn over charged, flaring house synths and subdued bass groans. “Let me bounce and hit the beach,” the demon slurs, presumably in the direction of a terror-gripped Wavves.

'Release Da Boar'

The mechanics of this one are tough to fathom. What’s most obvious is a seething layer of noise, but beneath that are ticking cymbals, vocals that sound like ruined joy and bass throbs ponderous and pensive enough to pass (if thoroughly scrubbed) for the proto-glo-fi epicisms of 10cc. I’m finding it incredibly hard to listen to any more than one of these elements at the same time, though, thanks to that red noise mist. A song so heavy it’ll slow your own perception of time, and possibly make you think of Dutch football twins Ronald and Frank de Boer riled into a starving, feral frenzy then unleashed to go at each other until one of them dies and the other gets to choose which hill Rome’s built on.


The most ‘light-hearted’ track thus far, featuring a screwed rap lope you can imagine stoned people laughing at, the sound of video games and of cars braking desperately then crashing through glass windows (this is not a metaphor).


Here comes the hit! ‘Redlights’ was first released on 2008’s Yes I Smoke Crack EP, then again last year on the Water EP and here it is for a third time at the crux of their debut album. To return to this preview’s original point, this has filled out a lot since 2008 and the attack is harder and louder, but try as they may, there’s no concealing the beauty of it. Still sounds like nothing else on earth (nothing replicable live, anyway).


An opening shimmer of synths gives way, inevitably, to ridiculously oversized and accentuated bass surges, and other noises you can taste on your tongue as rust. I’ve said this before elsewhere, but I’ve never known anyone to make music as physically affecting as Salem’s. ‘Hound’ is of that ilk, lurching out from the speakers to snare you in its heavy, heady, codeine’d funk.


‘Traxx’ has a more baldly sci-fi bent that anything else on this record: its tapering treble sounds recalling Vangelis in the way they seem to emerge like muck-clad skytowers from the ground level fumes of a ruined city.


King Night’s shortest track at a tidy 2:10, ‘Tair’ is another featuring the screwed vocal talents of John Holland, Jack Donoghue or one of their rapper friends from Michigan. More of an adjunct than anything, it’s compelling nonetheless, sustaining the off-kilter momentum for the rush into the record’s final track.


If any track on King Night most sums up any change in Salem, it’s ‘Killer’. There are many things about the trio that have always been unbearable – their sadness and, by extension, their joy, the weight of their music and the physical impression it leaves upon the listener. But to all that they’ve wed unbearable scope: so that all that sadness and pain and ecstasy and weight envelops you completely. The bass in ‘Killer’ sounds like horizons tired of running and turned to come for you: a vast, black nixing that’ll crush you like the spiders Holland’s vocal finds in your hair. They’ve already inspired a litter of imitators, but it’ll be a surprise if anyone’s able to make an album that sounds like this one for a long, long time. Theirs is a pure and true sadness, one so built from experience and upon inference that it should prove impossible to replicate.

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John Doran
Jul 20, 2010 5:14pm

Tair features Jools Holland?

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Sep 8, 2010 3:25pm

ok thats your opinion. heres mine. i have listened to salem alot and iv come to the conclusion that its basically fairly average synth drones over beats which are "genius" to some but could well be considered "crap" to others. AWFUL AWFUL vocals. how is anybody taking this music seriously? its so self important and ott dark that its actually funny..maybe theyr laughing at pretentious reviews like this. i know its a differant kettle of fish altogether but give me crystal castles (snigger if u want but i like them)or the likes of balam acab any day.i usually agree with kevs reviews but this is crap.

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Sep 8, 2010 6:25pm

In reply to dave:

kindov regrettin that stupid post. didnt really get my point across and i seem like a dick. basically saying i do actually like salem just dont understand "the fuss". dont find it as original as everyone seems to think. just listening to a transient waves song from early 90s called paradise that could easily be salem. sorry for above post

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Sep 22, 2010 9:38pm

Just listened to some Salem tracks after reading alot about them. I didn't find them fightening or difficult and actually found the synth melodies quite melodic. All this reverence about them is stupid though and i don't think what they're doing is as spectacularly groundbreaking as some people are saying though it is good. I do get fed up with the way anyone doing anything even slightly original is hyped as if their the second coming of Jesus.

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Oct 2, 2010 7:30pm

I like that Salem is so polarizing. I think their aim is one of honest, stripped-down beauty, even if their journey toward it is full of noise. there's humor there as well--many don't pick up on that. Not that they're trying to be funny, but that they don't take themselves too seriously. people are either ravished by their music, or turned off completely. I'm the former. My reaction is a spiritual one. Every time I listen to "King Night," I get goosebumps. The first time I heard the song was really quite emotional. I hadn't heard anything like it before, and I could tell that at the core of it was rapture that comes from serious psychological, emotional, physical pain. Actually, I wasn't thinking of much at all at the time, only feeling. Their music is not for everyone, but I don't think they're trying to reach everyone. IN fact they really just want to make music they like. I think more should be said of Salem's spiritual focus. Their music is very David Lynch's Twin Peaks to me: both odd and hard to describe and majestic. Again, not for everyone, but this is definitely a church I'll enter.

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Oct 4, 2010 9:18am

Dave is right, people need to stop needlessly glorifying bands. Why stoop so low as Pitchfork and NME? Everyone is sure beginning to sound like them. Salem is not all that original. Does anyone remember 80s? Dark synth music at all? Heck, 1996, Eye by Smashing Pumpkins ring a bell? Should, it even made it to the charts and was featured in a movie. It featured 808 drums and eerie synths etc. Similar to Salem's style. This has already been done and capitalized. Nothing new, get over it people. Salem has it's moments, I do enjoy it from time to time, at least studio wise, but it's not all that original or mind opening. Get over it. Stop crucifying everyone.

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Oct 28, 2010 5:52am

it's the production too. people don't comment on that, they instead feel a need to keep themselves grounded, not allowing appreciation for anything to progress too far. i couldn't agree more with KK's review. beautiful.

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