CD, Suspicious Records, 2006
Second release for Hive’s sister label dedicated to beats of a more narcotic, head-nodding variety and, if this the benchmark they’re working to, may there be many more. Saltillo is a beautiful, melancholy mess of trip-hop beats, skittery breaks and an army of classical strings, piano and guitar. A lot of trip-hop and hip-hop tends to focus on the vibe, cutting down to a minimal rhythm and bass sound, but Saltillo goes the other way, layering an impressive array of sounds over his beats and focusing on really strong song writing.
Opening track “A Necessary End” sets the tone perfectly at it layers cello and viola before introducing a rolling beat, piano and wispy, loss-filled female vocals. The song progresses, gaining momentum as breaks flutter around the tripping rhythm and the string section gets faster, aggressively sad like the penetrating strings of the “Requiem for a Dream” score (aka the music from “The Lord of the Rings” trailers). The music never sits still as it confidently builds to an emotional crescendo before vanishing in a sustained, female note.
This tour-de-force of a track gives way to a more conventional number in “Giving In”, a dusky torch-song tweaked with aching slide guitar and subtle turntablism. Clear female vocals intone a genuine sense of longing, like a softer Sarah McLachlan.
“Remember Me” picks up with a DJ Shadow-esque sitar sound and build into a frenzy of splashing cymbal-hits and piano while “A Simple Test” hits drum-and bass-speeds peppered with strings and more of those clear haunting vocals.
Track after track, Saltillo combines the different elements listed into something memorable and moving. No song feels lost or over-similar to the others yet all are unmistakably part of the same whole – even as it rolls from the mild Aphex Twinisms of “Backyard Pond” to the elegiac “Grafting”. This is an album that deserves mainstream recognition as it would be lapped up by DJ Shadow fans and those unmoved by hip-hop’s lack of emotion or by rap vocals.
Twelve tracks of strings, beats, breaks, beauty and sorrow. Unreservedly recommended.
— Christopher Fry