In the beginning, there was Screw: the DJ from Houston whose slow and stuttering technique spawned a new musical subgenre. In diluted forms, DJ Screw's sonic signature crops up in the rap/R&B chartscape, but only recently have other genres explored his revolutionary speed-dropping, beat-chopping approach.
This is why the music of the Michigan three-piece synth outfit Salem is so thrilling, yet so difficult to evaluate: without a substantial comparison set, their scruffily beautiful and often viscerally compelling Screw-driven music both suffers and succeeds in its singularity. The songs on this debut album are lethargic, syrupy, and sinister, with the rough-edged peaks of a maxed-out mix. In contrast to their moody feel and the dictates of the chopped-and-screwed genre (but consistent with the Salem singles that preceded King Night), they're fairly succinct. No song is more than five minutes long; most are under four. Their dirgy, slowed-down synth backdrops sparkle with aural glitter familiar to Dirty South rap fans, but the clipped, staccato 808 snare rolls and looped dog-pound woofs are overlaid at "normal" speed, creating a schism between Salem's seminal inspirations and the trio's own methods of execution. This blending of slow-speed boom and standard-pitch bling challenges Screw devotees and neophytes at once. King Night enchants with "Redlights," album closer "Killer," and its title track; these slow-motion whirlpools of æthereal dirtbag shoegaze are siren songs from the gutter — taken off guard, you might easily drown. With the exception of "Trapdoor," whose "It's all blurred out" refrain is as catchy as any good Ludacris hook, the rap vocals are unwelcome intrusions: they drag Salem back to the group's roots, where their explorations are less appealing.