Salem, King Night
A precarious balance between grime and grace
On their debut, King Night, the New York witch house outfit Salem rummages through a sonic junk drawer, fusing chopped and screwed raps with pre-programmed beats, scuffed-up synth lines and strange snippets of ghostly hymns. That the record opens with a butchered fragment of Barney's "I Love You" also shows that the trio of John Holland, Heather Marlatt and Jack Donoghue have an impish sense of humor.
Which is not to say that they're family friendly: Reports of drug use, taken alongside their first EP, Yes I Smoke Crack, have piqued public interest; one more notorious bit of backstory has Holland turning tricks for speedballs in IHOP parking lots; Donoghue has bragged of OxyContin abuse, and Marlatt admitted to a journalist, "We're, like, children."
But rather than capitalize on burnout clichés, the trio instead fully explore the battle between savagery and civility throughout their 45-minute debut. Mixed by titan producer, Dave Sardy, King Night could score the suicide scene of a third-generation Romeo & Juliet. Salem strike a precarious balance between grime and grace — they're more melodic than the Books, but more menacing than Burial. The majestic title track is an eerie collage of patient drums, operatic whines and an Ibiza-esque synth line. But Salem shatters the opener's ethereal mood with "Asia," where droning vocals snake through menacing snares and a kick drum. "Hound" builds with goblin whispers, lofty synth chords, and frenetic percussion before it collapses into a cowbell riff. Salem propels their strange narrative with anxiety and ease.