The cover of Salva’s Complex Housing is a clever and appropriate pun. Depicted is Montreal’s Habitat 67, an eccentric piece of modernist architecture designed and still functioning as a close-quarters housing complex that is quite, well, complex for housing. Paul Salva’s digs on the record are also some complex housing (though only a few songs here could really qualify as “house music”). Like Habitat 67, Salva’s songs seem at times to be defying gravity, and his talent relies more on Escher-esque trickery than any sense of style or elegance.
Many of Salva’s contemporaries push all the obvious buttons, only to end up histrionic like a staged wrestling match, all synth-wank testosterone and carefully inserted show-offs. Perhaps what makes Salva’s formula rise above his wonky-minded, purple funkstep peers, such as Lazer Swords, Starkey, Slugabed and Shlohmo, is the way he lets many of his tracks breathe, allowing the crisp Detroit faux-analogue synth sound to exist outside of the wall-of-bass box. Rhythm on Complex Housing consists not just of massive stomps, such as the snare rush on “Icey”, which sounds like a Jenga board collapsing. It also works through melody. Within the choppy tremolos and diced arpeggios lies a rhythm defined by absence, the spaces that soundlessly divide passages. The voices of the album appear mostly in snippets, with bits of an “I’m” (“Keys Open Doors”), “Ooh” (“Baroque”), and “Don’t you know” (the cover of Robert Owens’s classic Chicago house cut “I’ll Be Your Friend”) caught in locked groove throughout. The juxtaposition of these minced bits with bright whole notes gives Complex Housing an assured, rather than anxious, feel. And though the electro bass is often playful, it never gets cheeky. Salva is too talented a producer to insert his ego into a track just to keep the energy level high.
Tossed onto this release are a few remixes, only one of which (the dependable MachineDrum’s interpolation of the Funky-ish “Keep Open Doors”) matches the quality level of the original. These are not bad cuts; nor do they break the continuity too much, but the album is good enough without them to make their inclusion simply gratuitous.