When I first caught the formerly Chicago, now Traverse City, Michigan-based trio Salem at the Biz 3 showcase at South by Southwest last March, I was struck by the fact that I hadn’t seen an electronic group so polarize an audience since Suicide back in the day. The dense, difficult, sludgy, but sexy sound was simultaneously alienating and seductive, with elements of trip-hop, gothic darkwave, classical chorale music, Southern hip-hop, and electronic pop. And as the group did its best to present an air of we-don’t-give-a-f*ck indifference, working as hard at chain-smoking as it did in creating that awesome wall of electrified mud, part of me loved it, and part of me hated it.
I have no such ambivalence about the first full album from John Holland, Heather Marlatt, and Jack Donoghue: This is one of the strongest discs I’ve heard this year, and I can’t imagine a better soundtrack for this Halloween or any to come.
Forget about the lurid back story, rife as it is with tales of male prostitution and heroin use, and set aside questions of whether the group is worth seeing live or if its Satanic incantations are genuine or just another death metal-style number of the beast put-on. The atmosphere of a coven of witchy robots committing unspeakable acts in the darkest wooded hollow—or is that a group of ancient pagans somehow reincarnated to summon timeless forces in a circle on some distant-future space station?—is a unique and devilishly delicious delight.