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  • Genre:


  • Label:

    Wisdom Teeth

  • Reviewed:

    January 9, 2024

The Korean electronic duo’s music is a curious world of bright colors, aqueous burbles, and even one otherworldly pop song.

Salamanda’s colorful, luminous electronic music started as a fantasy. Korean producers Sala (aka Uman Therma) and Manda (aka Yetsuby) told Crack magazine in early 2022 that they hoped, through making songs, to retreat from the drudgery of modern life to the imaginary worlds they dreamed up when they were kids. It’s a feeling that their records over the last few years—playfully impressionistic, full of sunny synth melodies and an unrelenting spirit of curiosity—vividly evoke.

Their latest, In Parallel, is a vibrant expansion of these themes. The title of the first track, “Nostalgia,” might feel obvious for a duo whose music has mined the feeling so thoroughly. But it fits this foggy composition, which opens with the distant chatter of children playing, eventually fading into lapping synthesizer melodies and featherlight percussion. Its familiar, golden-hour emotionality makes for the sort of song that feels like a warm memory the first time you hear it.

Salamanda are most comfortable inhabiting this mode—In Parallel is bright and elaborate but unfolds at a contemplative pace. Their approach recalls the ornate records Jon Hassell was making toward the latter part of his career, or the intricate emotionality found on labels like West Mineral Ltd.; there is movement and momentum on In Parallel, but Salamanda always find space for stillness. Even on tracks that foreground percussion and rhythm, like the sleepwalking balearic murmurs of “Sun Tickles” or the aqueous burbles of “Purple Punch,” In Parallel’s movement is patient. It oozes slowly, shimmering like motor oil in rainwater.

On 2022’s Ashbalkum, the duo found a lot of power in the playful potential of the human voice, splashing wordless coos across the record. They use vocals in similarly abstract ways on In Parallel, including the gasping title track, which smears ghostly syllables across gently pooling electronics—underscoring the yearning that pulses beneath the record’s more abstract moments. But In Parallel’s most striking moment takes a different approach. While still oozy, otherworldly, and surreal in its own right, “Homemade Jam” pushes the limits of Salamanda’s sound by offering up what’s effectively a pop song. The lyrics are simple, little more than a nursery rhyme—“Make a jam/By myself”—but the track is sticky and sweet. There’s nothing else like it among In Parallel’s pensive pieces, but roughly hewn as it is, it’s genuinely memorable—part schoolyard chant, part radio hit beamed in from Candy Land.

Salamanda’s music is often broadly understood as ambient, but they’ve never been circumscribed by such borders. Peaceful moments abound in their catalog, but whenever things get too tranquil, a slithering rhythm or a surreal vocal melody stands ready to add a mischievous slipperiness. The freedom and genuine curiosity of their approach is what has made the group so exciting to follow across their recent productive years. Call them ambient if you must, but Salamanda aren’t drifting—they’re exploring, like wide-eyed wanderers turned loose on a brand new realm.