Saltillo – The Darker Side of Trip Hop
Trip hop first emerged during the early 1990’s in the United Kingdom. Initially used to describe an experimental variant of breakbeat containing elements of funk, jazz and soul, trip hop has evolved, fusing several styles and genres: ambient music, hip hop drum beats, and acid jazz among others. As such, the genre is highly experimental in nature, and Saltillo is the perfect example of such experimentation.
Behind Saltillo is American artist Menton J. Matthews III, also known as Menton3 or Sunday Munich. Menton/Saltillo is a wearer of many hats: painter, illustrator, comic book artist, and multi-instrumentalist – equally at ease with the piano, cello, viola, violin, guitar, bass, and drums as well as electronic music-making.
Drawing on his diverse artistic skill set, Saltillo has crafted two albums, ‘Ganglion’ and ‘Monocyte’, which push the envelope by being at once dark and moody, heart-achingly melodious, and individualistic through its classical music elements while remaining catchy. Industrial drum beats are given depth through the low, solemn notes of cellos, or uplifted by layers of violins and ethereal female vocals, contributed by Menton’s wife, Sarah Matthews (the other half of Sunday Munich).
Saltillo’s unique musical style invites listeners to join the artist in exploring his lifelong interest in the relationship between symbols, signs and images and the human psyche.
Ganglion’s themes feel mostly introspective as such. Notable tracks from Ganglion:
- ‘A Hair on the Head of John the Baptist’: Pure Shakespearean sublimity here. Two soulful voices narrate excerpts from ‘Hamlet’, interspersed with a narrative of the story of John the Baptist. Prepare to be swept into a rich tapestry of sound and fantasy.
- ‘The Opening’: A multi-layered string piece that fully exploits the different tonal qualities of its instruments.
- ‘Grafting’: Featuring violinist Paul Mercer, this song is characterized by dark cello riffs and vocals in Urdu (a language used mostly in Pakistan). Haunting and soulful, my pick for driving solo.
Monocyte is a concept album released in conjunction with a comic of the same name.
While ‘Ganglion’ was inward-looking, ‘Monocyte’ is more industrial, jittery, and gritty. Strings and electronic drum beats work in sync to create tension and anticipation. Top picks:
- ‘Forced Vision’: This piece continues Saltillo’s fascination with the human psyche and the concept of reality and emotion.
- ‘Hollow’: As its title indicates, this is a minimalistic piece and a welcome contrast with the overarching mood of the album.
Check out these spaces for more Saltillo: