When Salem’s King Night was released in September of 2010, there was so much bullshit surrounding the band that it was difficult to give the album a fair assessment. People claiming that Salem was at the forefront of a “next big thing” genre alternately referred to by a parade of ridiculous tags including but not limited to drag, witch house and rape gaze (my personal favorite), the band literally getting booed off stage during a live set at SXSW, and at least one interview where the band came off as complete fucktards all served to detract from what really mattered: the goddamn music.
Almost a full two years later, after the shitstorm has died down, we can set it aside and examine King Night for what it is; not a great album, but rather a very good yet flawed album that is endlessly interesting nonetheless. By combining elements of noise, dark ambient and chopped and screwed style hip hop, Salem stumbled onto something totally unique, an album that’s part purple drank-drenched beats and part quasi-shoegaze washes of distortion.
Let’s get the flaws out of the way first. I’m not a fan of the band’s attempts at rapping, which are fortunately few and far between. I’m also not a fan of the way in which the raps are slowed down and pitch-shifted to the point where they are nearly unintelligible, as this in my opinion defeats the entire purpose of rapping. I can’t seem to find lyrics anywhere on the internet and the band didn’t include them with the album, so we’re left to wonder what the fuck they’re rapping about. I give Salem credit for appropriating aspects of hip hop’s sound and grafting it onto their own unique framework, but I can’t help but feel like they’re shooting themselves in the foot to a degree by making the vocals impossible to understand.
Those minor complaints aside, there’s so much good on King Night we can easily forget about the bad. The dark, sumptuous, overloaded layers of electronic noise create a aural cocoon and multi-tracked, echoing vocal lines lull you into Salem’s cough syrup-colored world, while the slo-mo beats illicit a permanent head-nod. It’s this bizarre juxtapostion of haunting, ethereal melodies and Houston hip hop-worship that make King Night such a fascinating listen. This disparate combination of styles absolutely should not work in theory or practice, yet somehow it does, and does extremely well. It’s kind of like Lycia getting remixed by DJ Screw with a little bit of Loveless thrown in for good measure, but even that comparison only scratches the surface.
Regardles of what you think about the members of Salem, King Night is a ballsy album. It isn’t every day that a trio of suburban whitebread, who may or may not be fucking lousy hipsters, create one of the weirdest, most drugged-out hip hop albums of all time. That’s ultimately what King Night is, even on the tracks with no rapping, hip hop taken in an utterly improbable direction by a group of total outsiders.