Ever because the Seoul-based digital musicians Uman Therma (aka Sala) and Yetsuby (aka Manda) have been launched by a mutual pal in 2018, the 2—identified collectively as Salamanda—have been crafting a finely detailed world collectively. Their identify comes from a drawing of a salamander that Therma made, and so they titled their 2019 debut single “Our Lair”—a delicate sketch for pulsing pads and synthesized pan flute—as a nod to the imaginary amphibian’s residence. They launched eight extra singles of their first yr, fleshing out the atmospheric contours of their musical universe with components of ambient, classical minimalism, and Japanese kankyō ongaku, and their world-building has gotten extra fanciful from there. They framed their first EP, 2020’s Glass Cage, which they launched within the early months of the pandemic, as an allegory of a chook in an invisible cage; their 2021 album Sphere was impressed by bulbous shapes—“like boiled tomatoes or planet Earth, or perhaps bubbles,” Sala has stated.
The widespread threads operating via all their music thus far have been its playful spirit, whimsical temper, and faintly psychedelic air, and ashbalkum, launched on the New York/Mexico Metropolis label Human Pitch, makes good on all these qualities. Its 10 tracks are constructed round mallet devices, pitter-pat drums, and softly rounded synths, as luminous and clean to the contact as a handful of seashore glass. Hiroshi Yoshimura’s meditative soundscaping is an apparent touchstone; so are the lilting, dancefloor-adjacent rhythms of ambient-techno fellow vacationers like Leif and Human Pitch co-founder Tristan Arp.
Salamanda have a easy sound that they twist into a delightful array of configurations. The opening “Overdose” is minimalist dub techno stitched collectively out of raindrops and sighs; “Melting Hazard” spins vibraphones and cooing voices into cotton candy-like tufts; “Rumble Bumble” loops thrumming hand drum and what is perhaps a vocal pattern from a classic ethnographic document right into a loosely woven funk. There are not any main shifts from the sound of their earlier recordings, however they’ve emphasised their pointillistic tendencies in refined however vital methods: They favor crisp, cleanly delineated sounds which might be suggestive of sticks hitting small, onerous objects—woodblocks, chimes, xylophone—and each sound appears to drift in a bubble of damaging house.
Essentially the most noticeable distinction between ashbalkum and its predecessors lies within the album’s use of vocals. Nearly each monitor options some sort of voice, although there’s not a single identifiable phrase uttered on the entire document; as a substitute, monitor after monitor is festooned with ribbons of cooing and chirping: the trim oohs of “Melting Hazard”; the sped-up hiccups of “Coconut Warrior,” which suggests a Boards of Canada cowl band helmed by very smart rodents; the pastel curlicues of “Residing Hazard,” which is perhaps an a cappella choir rubbing wineglass rims. All these curiously handled voices—plus the feline meow of “Mad Cat Get together (feat. Ringo the Cat)”—assist reinforce a naive sensibility that culminates within the youngsters’s voices and music-box plunk of the closing “Catching Tails.” Like Aphex Twin and Nobukazu Takemura, Salamanda intuit the ways in which digital music’s lysergic tendencies might be re-routed to seize a spirit of childlike surprise. The album’s title is an invented phrase riffing on a Korean phrase that means, roughly, “Ah, fuck, it’s a dream.” However in ashbalkum’s world, there are not any impolite awakenings; each monitor leads deeper right into a state of surrealistic bliss.