ALBUM REVIEW: Salem - King Night




79 — [Rating Scale]

You can’t discuss King Night without bringing up “King Night.” It is the album standout, lead single, opening song, title track and Salem’s calling card. One of the best songs of the year, it’s a hyper-realization of what Salem and other artists falling under the new “witch-house” genre are creating. Menacing and full synths, stuttering and forceful drums, latently familiar choral background fading in and out; it’s almost impossible to categorize. That chorus received the most attention when the song was first covered by blogs and publications: Salem has somehow slipped “O, Holy Night” into a song that brings to mind the apocalypse. However, it’s just one of many great ideas that Salem are able to insert into this song. While the results are never quite replicated on the rest of the LP, those concepts reappear time and time again.

A technique that does not appear on the lead single but creates a few of the great tracks on King Night is Salem’s screwed and chopped hip-hop vocals. Considering how much Salem borrows from Atlanta’s crunk in their drum patterns, it makes sense they would also borrow from Houston’s trademark slowed down and cut up delivery style. Both “Sick” and “Tair” are essentially hip-hop tracks, and both stand out on King Night in a good way, using nearly unidentifiable rappers over Salem’s own sounds of heavy-handed synths and ethereal choirs to great effect.

It’s not just in their screwing and chopping that Salem identify themselves as experts of vocal manipulation. “Frost,” especially, displays this. The female vocals on the track are never left alone. Instead, they stutter, loop, reverb and bounce their way to becoming just another instrument. It helps that it is, for all intents and purposes, impossible to understand what she’s singing about anyway.

That obtuse use of vocalists sometimes runs Salem into trouble on the album, though. This happens whenever they try to bring vocals to the forefront. The album closer, “Killer,” tries to combine traditional, lyric-based songwriting while keeping in step with their uses of distortion. The result is illogical. You can tell he’s actually singing about something. The snippets of words (“and you,” “you know,” miles and miles”) coupled with the track title suggest it’s an emotional and powerful song about someone close to him, but good luck figuring out anything more than that.

“Killer” is also one of their worst instrumentally, attempting to combine guitars and leaving out a lot of what makes their best songs great. That is not saying that Salem’s general formula always creates greatness. There are several tracks on the album that don’t achieve the epic and powerful results of the majority of the album. “Asia” is a jumbled, boring and disorganized song, saved only by a slow crescendo of intensely sequenced hi-hats into a full-blown, military-like barrage of snares that take the entire song to develop.

Sometimes the border between indie and electronic music seems like a breeding ground for ill-conceived trends with cringe-worthy labels. Salem could easily have fallen into this unfortunate group as pioneers of witch-house. However, they created a sound based on the best of a host of new and interesting concepts into a compelling collection of tracks. It is not flawless, and several of the best tracks (“Frost, “Redlights”) here are simply cleaned up standouts from their earlier EP’s, but overall it is an extremely solid effort from a new and polarizing band.