Just once in a while, a reissue is genuinely of something that somehow missed a time in the spotlight the first time around, and the reissue is no naked attempt at getting the first buyers to put hands in pockets again, but instead the work of someone else trying to get the audience it should have done in the first place.
And so was the case with Saltillo’s Ganglion last year, after Artoffact Records picked up a release that originally appeared on an offshoot of the ill-fated Hive Records. Sadly a label that never really did as much promotion as they should for an impressive roster, it appears Hive’s offshoot did no better – I had never even come across Saltillo until last year. But thanks to Artoffact restoring a quite remarkable album back into circulation, I’m glad I now have.
Quite how to pigeonhole his (for Saltillo is Menton Matthews) music is the first challenge. There are classical elements, there are electronics and, yes, trip-hop beats. There are clever samples, there are quite beautiful vocals. Needless to say, this is what might be known as “trip hop” from the dark side. It isn’t really chill-out music, this is tense, difficult stuff. And hallelujah to that, say I.
So, about Monocyte. This new album, remarkably, appears even more dense than the first, and it isn’t even a standalone release, either. It is meant to be listened to as a companion to the comic book of the same title – but for now I’ve stuck with immersing myself in the quite extraordinary music, as that tells enough of a story of its own.
Proxy is frankly fucking amazing, a stately rhythm that is shredded by dramatic strings (cello, I think?) that effectively perform the function that vocals might elsewhere. Only five minutes of it feels like being short-changed. If Wishes Were Catholics, that follows it, is five minutes of mournful beats, and an even more despairing female vocal, and is almost the feeling of post-nightmare calm. Where you are still petrified and/or sad, but the reason why is beginning to recede.
This is perhaps a good way to describe the feel of the album in general. This isn’t a “comedown” album, it is music from the dead of night, that is probably more “goth” and just generally dark than pretty much anything else laying claim to these descriptions right now. But as you may have noticed here, getting a handle on what this album actually is very tough indeed.
There is more to savour, mind. They All Do It The Same is a jaw-dropping meshing of jagged beats, choral music, and treated piano that is once again over all too soon. Another name springs to mind as the next few songs come through, taking the same basic building blocks and somehow making something fresh and new each time. That is DJ Shadow – perhaps the original master of taking various obscure sources and fashioning them into music that could be admired as much as loved. It is maybe a cliched link, but one that bears mention – after all, no-one else right now is fashioning music like this, much as DJ Shadow was in a field of one back in the nineties. And then, right at the end, To Kill A King changes tack entirely, bringing in a massive jazz-like drum rhythm that dominates the song, and unexpectedly ends the album on a bright, almost upbeat note. Or, if you will, the first rays of light in the dawn.
An album of vision, beauty, and grace, this is something that should be less written about and more heard and enjoyed. But we have to get the word out somehow, right?
(As I write this, one once-like-minded soul has hardly done much for his legacy, apparently managing to make a performance of the greatest and most adventurous “trip-hop” album of them all a trial in the live arena. So as we gain a new future star – with an album this good and so technically impressive, there will be no fucking justice in the world if he isn’t at some point – those past keepers of the flame should perhaps stand aside. Saltillo is here to take the crown. And even better, there is a vinyl release this coming week of reworkings of material from this album, and a new track)