Available on: IAMSOUND LP
Look, talking about where Salem fit in has got pretty boring, so let’s cover it in the first paragraph. The Midwestern trio ushered in a new wave of independent music where it was desirable to be slow, and they helpfully reminded hundreds of bedroom producers that DJ Screw, Gucci Mane and juke were pretty cool reference points (in both aesthetic and equipment – check how many of these guys use 808s now) to build a sound around. They obviously weren’t the first group to be influenced by this stuff, but the stars definitely aligned for them to be the ones to shepherd all this in. The real evidence of Salem’s influence is in that first sentence: when they first emerged they didn’t fit anywhere (people were talking about The Big Pink as their peers, for God’s sake), but in the last two years the music around them has changed simply to contextualise them.
And really, not a lot about Salem has changed between their first singles, released in 2008 and King Night – they’ve just got a lot better at what they do. From the 808 drum machines, which now pierce the air as opposed to sinking into the background, it sounds like they’ve got hold of some hardware, or maybe that’s just the touch of Dave Sardy, who’s worked with Johnny Cash and Chris Cornell in his time, and produced King Night. Most crucially though, Jack Donoghue’s got a lot better at rapping. Whereas the pitch-shifted raps on those early singles sounded amateur, bordering on pastiche, these are really effective – and in a recent interview, Jack made a good counter-argument to the race questions that get asked of him pitch-shifting his voice to sound black, pointing out that no one would ever question them for reversing a guitar.
This give a fuck attitude is key with Salem; while their imitators come across as very self-conscious when citing Screw or whoever as influences, Salem simply make the music they’ve always wanted to hear – and don’t care whether you think they’re racist, or thieves, or just drugged-up hipsters. There’s nothing around that’s really like King Night, an album that reaches incredibly beautiful heights – particularly on ‘Traxx’ and the still untouchable early single ‘Redlights’, both voiced by Heather – and explores distorted, deserted depths. On the album’s final track, ‘Killer’, they combine the two, comfortably hitting the noise-drenched extremes of My Bloody Valentine, Jesu and Geisha and cementing King Night‘s status as one of the best records of the year.