Salamanda // ashbalkum
(Human Pitch)

Nuanced electronics for placid moments with a necessary bite, transmitting from South Korea.

All too often, harmonically rich, delicately balanced electronica can come off as too damned nice. There’s a fine line between soothing, spiritually cleansing tones and insipid background waft, and in most cases you need a little friction or an unkempt idea to sidle into the mix for added depth or intrigue. Labels like Human Pitch seem to understand this, and even with their relatively modest catalogue over the past few years, the NYC label have become a reliable destination for mellow ambience and abstraction that matches its elegance and melody with that necessary bite. Label co-steer Tristan Arp’s excellent releases are a fine case in point, and Seoul-based duo Salamanda fit right into that particular niche, too. 

The pair – named on their Discogs profile as Sala (Uman) and Manda (Yetsuby) – were instantly intriguing when they released their Allez! LP on Good Morning Tapes in 2020, teasing darkness and light, organic and synthetic, through intricate constructions. They had a successful follow up on Métron and now their third LP lands as an assured demonstration of their sound. The drip-drop pulses and breathy vocal pads which open ashbalkum might well imply the kind of nu-new-age pitfalls that lead to creative ennui, but in fact there’s a giddiness in the layering, a wobbliness in the synth shapes, which makes ‘Overdose’ feel much more engaging than the sound palette might initially imply. 

At times the particular melodic choices call to mind Yu Su, another artist who knows how to elicit mystery from the sweetest of musical choices, but more importantly ashbalkum progresses into many different things. ‘Rumble Bumble’ is pointed in its percussive focus, made up of earthen hand drums programmed into a limber funk, while ‘Mad Cat Party’ plays with a subtly glitched rhythmic framework voiced in tongue-in-cheek fashion by Ringo the Cat. The mews are at once ridiculous and totally appropriate as a sound source – not an easy trick to pull off. ‘Coconut Warrior’ also sports a dynamic beat, carrying a panoply of hiccups, whispers and pings that echo the vibrant ecosystems RAMZi sculpts.  

With an overall light and airy sound which lets every subtle detail gleam, Salamanda’s third album cements their aesthetic in that loosely defined field of dreamy electronica for sensitive souls. It’s undoubtedly feel-good, but never at the expense of a little freakiness to keep things interesting.