Saltillo – Monocyte (2012)

This truly is the year of returns; Saltillo’s sophomore LP Monocyte, following a 6 year hiatus.

Monocyte is dark, one of the darkest albums I’ve heard this year so far. Falling loosely under the trip-hop genre it follows not in the electronic vein that many artists within the genre follow (Massive Attack, Unkle etc), but instead a more acoustic direction, coupling electronic beats with incredible violin/strings and piano.

“Abeo” shepherds us in and sets us up perfectly; gentle strings open out into coarse, dark electronics and heavily distorted vocal fragments, beginning our descent into the dark, surreal world of Monocyte.  “Proxy”, with its jittering, insatiable electronics and soulful violin sequences rises up slowly, with a dark spoken word backing. Immediately, we have the illusion of being taken places, to the dark internal workings of some eternally shifting mind. Then out of nowhere huge swells of sound burst out, the power and menace of the strings made known before slipping away as quickly as they came. Spine-tingling to say the least, my favourite track here and one of the best all year.

“Proxy” removes itself swiftly, slipping gracefully into the gentle and surprisingly lyrical “If Wishes Were Catholics”. If you didnt have the feeling of claustrophobia already, it becomes readily apparent here, burying the soft vocals under heavy basslines and silvery strings and importantly the piano, although they occasionally break through in indecipherable surges. It’s consistent and brilliant. Other tracks, like “The Right Of Action”, merely act as filler, bridges between tracks to keep the atmosphere. They are worth it, however, since on the other end we get fantastic tracks like “They Do It All The Same”. Short yet sweet and remaining purely electronic we are given the opportunity to sample the different facets of Saltillo’s style individually. Soothing drone and airy, orchestral vocals rise and swell before electronic breakbeats punch in, really keeping a diverse sound.

“Gatekeepers”, with its heavy, deep bassline, writhing synths and choppy percussion brings us back to the sound we’re beginning to love; plenty of strings and again unusual yet chilling literary samples. I only wish I knew where they were from. Once the melody has run its course we are left with alone with this perfectly spoken sample, which is oddly intimate towards the end, talking openly about death. “I Hate You” also has similarly hard hitting samples, raising societal issues such as self-confidence;

“the average fella, the average girl, doesn’t want to be laughed at”

Saltillo pulls this off flawlessly within the track, using the sample sparingly. It just…works.

Again, “Forced Vision” hits home hard, raising questions of mortality and consciousness, all contained within just a few lines of verse:

“for you are merely a temporary agglomeration of atoms/

“wavelengths of energy if you will”

The melodies at this point, although they do still contribute much of the meat of the tracks, have much less resonance, whereas the samples drive home the points hardest. It’s an almost hypnotic sensation, as though Saltillo knows our fears and is using them to connect and manipulate us on a basic level. “To Kill A King” carries us out; it is an odd flurry of breakbeats and mournful orchestral sequences, with drones and heartwrenching vocals overlain by a determined bassline and synth. It feels much more experimental, less decisive and focused than the album that preceded it. Is this some kind of internal struggle? A battle of powers? A resistance to conformity perhaps.

Monocyte is good. It’s more than good in fact, it’s excellent. Somehow, crammed within its 50 minute frame, Saltillo has managed to create an album that challenges us on so many levels, introduce so many concepts and considerations by barely saying anything at all; carefully chosen and precisely worded samples give us all the information we need. It’s unconventional to say the least but enormously compelling nonetheless.