Arto Lindsay: Salt

Arto Lindsay
Righteous Babe

A couple of years ago, I went to see Arto Lindsay get publicly interviewed at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. From all the pictures I had seen of him, he seemed like an unsmiling, artsy type that would keep his distance and answer all questions in a vaguely annoyed manner, and while he proved much more open and friendlier than that during his interview and the audience Q&A, the real surprise moment came when I was returning from the bathroom before the interview began. He was standing behind the crowd talking to the organizers of the event, and as I got close, he burst into a brief, jerky dance. When this spastic fandango abruptly ended, he snapped back into composure and stared at me with an almost accusatory look. To this day, I have no idea what my brush with cult fame meant, if anything, but it’s hard for me to think of the man without remembering that weird blend of artiness, spookiness, and self-deprecating humor that my encounter with him suggested in its minimal way.

Anyone who shares this impression of Lindsay wouldn’t have found much he or she recognized in 2002’s Invoke. A continuation of the man’s longstanding interest in blending Brazilian pop with things we Yanks might more readily recognize, Invoke looked much better on paper than it ever sounded coming from a pair of speakers. Its use of so-called “world” music ensured that the guilty-conscience crowd would strain every muscle in their bodies to appreciate it, but the album was fairly dull, fading into the background far too often to justify the raves it sometimes got. The sense of wild adventure that Lindsay made his signature quality beginning with his stint in no-wave heroes DNA was gone, replaced by a dispiriting satisfaction with producing lovingly crafted Muzak.

Considering that Lindsay is now on the far side of 50, it would only be slightly hasty to treat an uninspired record as the herald of an irreversible descent into mediocrity. But being slightly hasty is being hasty nonetheless, and his new Salt proves all the doubters wrong in resounding terms. Salt, utterly unlike Invoke, sounds like the product of a man once called “James Brown reborn in the body of Don Knotts” reaching middle age without coming across as old. On one cut after another, Lindsay dishes out the surprises in generous helpings, a feat made all the more admirable for how little he seemed willing or able to do it just a couple of years ago. Some of the blame for the lack of excitement back then could have gone towards Lindsay’s use of minimalism, but Salt demonstrates how to balance an entrancing groove with the steady introduction of new material. Most of the tracks have a consistent feel from start to finish (that feel usually being enigmatic and dark), but the songs never grow static, and none of the many layers Lindsay piles on top break the mood. It’s just how this sort of music should be done.

But philosophical concerns aside, Salt is, quite frankly, a fun record. True, its fun is of the distinctly cerebral variety, and if one can picture it playing at a party, that party would surely be populated by eggheads sitting around mysteriously glowing tables in darkened booths in a dystopian future, maybe with some mannequins in provocative poses in giant birdcages hanging from the ceiling, but, hey, a party record is a party record, and Salt makes the cut. Its burbling electronic textures actually provide you with something to hum or whistle rather than just providing gratuitous exotica, with the same going for Lindsay’s Brazilian extractions. Even if he is never mistaken for Brian Eno in his electronica or … some Brazilian pop star for what he airlifts from that country, Lindsay should never be, as Salt proves, mistaken for anything less than a daring and fertile artist.

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