Saturday, November 20, 2010

Salem - King Night review

Salem is a Chicago-based band whose first official release, an EP titled, Yes I Smoke Crack, earned them recognition as a "bloggable buzzband", released their debut album, King Night, on September 28th of this year.  It seems as though this band has come out of nowhere and made a huge splash in the online music community for a number of reasons.  Let us take a moment and review these reasons in case you're not familiar:

1. The title track off of King Night is released/leaked, bestows a "best new music" tag on it, making hipster panties around Brooklyn suddenly go moist.

2. The Pitchfork review was incredibly positive, but more importantly, described the bands sound as "rape gaze", which understandably got some people angry and they retracted the "rape gaze" label and started calling it "witch house" (which, admittedly, is pretty terrible for a genre name).

3. A bunch of reputable music critics jumped on the Salem bandwagon, including the New York Times, giving their music "glowing reviews".

4. Salem is labeled the "worst modern buzzband" by Hipster Runoff after Salem's live "performance" at SXSW (see video below).

So, what do I think of the album?  It's hard to not be influenced by what other people before me have already said, but since pretty much everyone has been calling Salem misunderstood "geniuses", it's safe to say that you don't have to worry about me being peer pressured.  First thing's first, I don't hate the album.  I think that there are moments on King Night which are beautiful, haunting and intimate.  I think that, at their best, Salem succeeds in crafting music that seems authentic, which makes it deeply affecting and sometimes moving.

The problem lies in the difficulty I had investing myself into the songs.  The entire album is dark.  It is depressing.  There are no moments that twinkle beneath the murky water.  King Night is a difficult listen, as the hip hop drum machines skitter across each track and the low key ambient synth lines do little to lighten the mood, you begin to wonder if the way you feel is similar to what a heroin addict feels as he is going through withdrawal.  That being said there is something captivating about the music.  There is something that embraces you and pulls you into the void, and even though the album and lyrics embody virtually everything ugly in society, there is something comforting about the shared suffering of the human condition.

The lowest points on the album, for me, would have to be the tracks that are ruined by "frontman" Jack Donoghue as he "raps".  Thankfully this happens rather sporadically, since his voice sounds like an 11 year old kid using a voice filter while playing XBOX Live.

In summation, there are a handful of tracks that are ethereal and moody enough to provide some rather compelling listening, however it is hard to take this band seriously, especially when you consider their live performances (see video below) or their minstrel show-esque rapping "skills".  It seems to me that Salem has managed to employ some rather effective reverse marketing by making themselves seem like assholes who don't give a shit about making music or having fans (when asked about what they thought of getting booed off stage, the band claimed that they "totally don't care"), and that has resulted in massive media coverage.  Most reviewers are claiming that Salem makes music that just isn't accessible to everyone and that some people are simply unable to " get it".  I have to disagree with that logic, but I will admit that the game they are playing has worked pretty well for them so far.

Salem - King Night
Salem - Asia

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