Overzealous journalists seem eager to run with this fuzzy idea of "witch house," positioning Salem as the progenitors. While placing the Chicago trio at the head of this supposed movement isn't incorrect if we're going to assume that it is, in fact, a movement or a genre, the suffocating dungeon atmospheres of Salem's debut King Night seem to be on another wavelength entirely. While the spate of recent interviews have been less than illuminating, their reference points are clear: early shoegaze and southern hip-hop. It's what they do with these influences that is so intriguing. No matter what you call it (the band themselves have used the term "drag"), it's something new, something different.
The songs of Salem are neither typically structured pop songs nor dance songs; they float by on ominous electrified storm clouds, made up primarily of guitars, synths and drum machines. The sung vocals are usually obscured, either entirely wordless or slurred beyond recognition, and they tend to blur as wallpaper along with the winds of decaying synth that blow through each track. That's where the shoegaze influence comes in, whether it's through the filtered moans of "Release Da Boar" or the ethereal chants of "Frost." The only thing allowed to emerge from the lumbering haze of abrasive distortion and overloaded bass are the insistent drum machines, which often feel as if they're antagonizing the tracks rather than anchoring them. Without warning they shoot like pummeling jackhammers and then pull themselves apart, letting a song fall into the rapidly-widening cracks in between; the percussive interplay on a track like "Hound" is easily this music's most entrancing and fascinating aspect.
There's one other thing you should know about this band: They rap. Getting a trio of somnolent white druggies to rap over slo-mo beats seems like a hysterically bad idea, but lo and behold, the rap tracks are where the band finds its greatest success. It's a brilliant move: The druggier side of southern rap and its chop-and-screw mentality sits comfortably with Salem's foreboding soundscapes. They believe in it, too—these aren't kids making fun of gangster rap, they're living it in their own fucked up way. The raps are slowed down to narcotic extremes that make them believably menacing and dead serious, exemplified in the languid drawl of "Trapdoor" which becomes infectious through constant hypnotic repetition.
Pigeonholing Salem is both unfair and pointless; unfair, because while in their wake have sprung up a number of bands exploring a similarly nihilistic and apocalyptic existence, they are truly unique. None of their peers sound as confident nor as comfortable with the way they combine their disparate influences. Pointless because Salem are insular, unfriendly and uncaring; claiming in a recent interview with FACT that they don't listen to any new music aside from rap, dubious or not, it shows. There's nothing contemporary or trendy about Salem's music except for the trend that has developed around it. Whether or not this increased attention leads to an embarrassing trainwreck or brighter futures is irrelevant. King Night stands alone, both from its apparent contemporaries as well as from the band itself; it's not so much their creation as their demon offspring, the kind of solid and complete creation that lesser (or just unluckier) bands spend entire careers striving towards.
Tracklist01. King Night
05. Release Da Boar