Salvatore – Tempo


Musicians often drop famous names in interviews and public relations campaigns as if their sales depended on the quantity of cited celebrities. Usually, it’s easy to pick out the pretentious of the bunch and identify those who sincerely mention references and collaborators. In the case of Salvatore’s fourth album, Tempo, the most famous name dropped again and again and, well, again, is John McEntire. Yes, McEntire, the Chicago wunderkind who has led Tortoise and The Sea and the Cake and produced Stereolab, among others. McEntire produced Tempo, so it’s understandable why these Norwegians would be running to tell their friends who recorded them, but when you highlight your highly regarded producer, you significantly raise the audience’s expectations for your album. In the case of Tempo, this occasionally hurts Salvatore.

Tempo opens with “Easy,” which has an aquatic sense and stretched tension throughout. The guitars recall some of Vini Reilly’s work in The Durutti Column, but there is a wall of slicing percussion that shatters any such similarities. “Easy” is a good beginning. Unfortunately, “Not Cello!” sounds like cheesy background music for a trendy downtown lounge. It has an African element but doesn’t go anywhere interesting. With “Atlantic,” Salvatore reveals its kraut-rock inspirations as it builds suspense in a dynamic track full of subtle snared nuances and louder, echoed percussion. Most notably, “Atlantic” benefits from its vibrating theme and repetition over five minutes.

“JS Bells” seems like an Ennio Morricone track that was remixed but left off the first remix collection of the maestro’s work ever assembled, Morricone RMX, from 2001. This is a pensive, quieter, more affecting piece than anything else Salvatore offers on Tempo. “JS Bells” is a perfect late-night or after-hours party chill-out tune. The album’s title track understandably sounds very Tortoise-like. It flows with moderately spaced beats and a tidal wave of rough notes. Considering the talents of Salvatore and McEntire, it’s an unpleasant surprise that “Rockefeller 2” and “Rockefeller 3” both come off boring, with dense instrumentation, as if the band and its producer were enclosed in a pipe for the recording session. The tension builds but there is no climax, no resolution, no satisfaction from either track.

Tempo closes with “Poor Coal,” another claustrophobic track that has much more of the human element than its two predecessors. “Poor Coal” is slow and features human traffic sounds amid rolling, stark, roughly calming instrumentation. It’s a fine end to an album that pleases more than it disappoints.

Tempo has occasional failures, but it must be noted that Salvatore’s playing is consistently excellent, even when the levels of creativity and audience stimulation are less impressive than the performance ability. If the band embraces more dynamic musical compositions, its future efforts should be more enjoyable for listeners.