Salem: Kings (and Queen) of the Goth-Hop

 We at GutterCandy have never understood the disdain certain supposedly "hip" sections of the rockcrit establishment have for what is known as "goth" music. 

Never trust anyone who tells you that Michael Jackson and Phil Collins were all that was happening in the 1980s, because that was also the era when what is now known as alternative/indie music first made its impact via college radio.  And in that period, "goth" bands like The Birthday Party, Bauhaus, Sister of Mercy, Skinny Puppy, Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Cure were the cutting edge, along with related non-goth acts like 4AD artists Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil.  None of these acts actually sounded much like the other, but they shared a dark, brooding sensibility and a commitment to the creation of new sounds.

Goth was briefly fashionable, but when the 80s ended so did its hipness quotient, and though the audience for goth never completely died out (insert "undead" joke here), the term "goth" later became such a millstone for exploratory artists such as Rozz Williams of Christian Death that he killed himself most likely to get away from it.

"Apparently, the band's less than pristine personal lives and their general alienation have troubled some in the indie-rock blogosphere, which we at GutterCandy can only applaud as a very good thing indeed."

Which brings us to Salem.  Gothic enough name, and on their new album, King Night (IamSound), they make some deliciously dark electronic sounds.  And as far as exploratory sensibilities go, these misfits from Northern Michigan fit the bill: backgrounds in teenage hustling and drug abuse, a love of winter and isolation within the confines of nature, EPs entitled Yes, I Smoke Crack, and a debut album that extolls the sovereignty of the night, all mark Salem (John Holland, Jack Donoghue and Heather Marlatt) as something much different than the college-boy bourgeois ironists with cutesy animal band names who have swamped the indie scene of late. 

Apparently, the band's less than pristine personal lives and their general alienation have troubled some in the indie-rock blogosphere, which we at GutterCandy can only applaud as a very good thing indeed.

"Call it 'witch house,' 'gutter industrial' or even call it 'goth-hop': Salem are a welcome breath of dank air."

Like the best goth bands, Salem are musically exploratory: they draw on influences as diverse as hip-hop and classical, but mainly what we hear in them is a creative recycling of some discarded British genres of the 90s (trip-hop, which always was goth for non-goth types, and drum 'n' bass) and the 80s (the aforementioned goth-4AD brand of melancholia).  King Night tracks like "Redlights," "Frost" and "Killer" can feature Cure-ish basslines, haunting, ethereal vocals reminiscent of Liz Frazer of Cocteau Twins, or rapping that sounds like 50 Cent in the throes of demonic possession.

At a time when uber-weenies like The Arcade Fire are the mainstream hipster's band of choice, it's comforting to know that out in the forests of Northern Michigan, the spirit of dark rock and roll survives and is thriving. 

Call it "witch house," "gutter industrial" or even call it "goth-hop": Salem are a welcome breath of dank air.

--jwb

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