Sega Bodega is the stage name of London’s Salvador Navarrete, and his debut album is fittingly titled Salvador. He’s mostly operated as a producer for his NUXXE label up to this point, but with Salvador, he’s stepping out of the shadows to do his own thing. And that thing is mostly quiet electronic pop music, with occasional forays into more uptempo material. Salvador is a very listenable album, but a lot of the time, the elements didn’t quite come together.
Some of that is musical. A song like “Salv Goes to Hollywood” is driven by a big but spare beat for its first half, and filled out by grinding noises and other detritus while Navarrete sings, “Pictures and I’m lonely, yeah / But all I want is time / Mixture hold me so unholy / I just wanna die.” Those are the only lyrics, and they are run through different voices and filters throughout the song. The music does have a second section that’s a little bit lighter sounding, but it’s not a compelling track, and the simplicity of the lyrics doesn’t help here.
But “Salv Goes to Hollywood” is something of an outlier. More typical is “Masochism”, which opens with another simple beat, a syncopated hi-hat sound with a snare hit on beats two and four. Navarrete sings in a quiet voice that’s this close to just speaking, but not quite. The vocal melody that’s there is solid, though, and the track goes in interesting musical directions. There’s a synth violin sound running through the song that provides a low-key hook, a break in the middle of the song where a solitary piano theme breaks out, and a bridge where the beat unexpectedly goes from loping to driving. But lyrically, the song is pretty harrowing, as Salvador sings about a bad, codependent relationship, with lines like, “Why you such a fuckin’ tease / I love you so” and “I just know I feel so empty / Unless I’m down here with you.”
It turns out that Navarrete’s bad relationships are the recurring lyrical theme of the album, and it makes for an uncomfortable listening experience, even when the songs themselves are solid. “U Got the Fever” has a cool, early Basement Jaxx type of vibe to it, with flutes and whistles and intentionally tinny electronic beats. Lyrically, though, it’s about another crazy woman he got involved with, or possibly the same one. “Heinous in the simplest sense and evil to the bone” and “I love when you tell me you’ve changed just ’cause I changed the locks” are a couple of lines that stand out here.
Then there’s “U Suck”, which mostly grafts “Fuck you / Fuck you / Fuck you / Fuck you” and “U suck / U suck / U suck / U suck” onto a sparse beat and arrangement. Eventually, he gets around to admitting that he’s attracted to this woman, and guest vocalist Mimi Wade shows up near the end to play the part of the woman. “Sometimes you don’t see it / But I love you / love you / love you” and “Deep down in my heart I want to fuck you / fuck you / fuck you.”
Navarrete occasionally tries some self-deprecation in these songs, but actual self-awareness is harder to come by. “Smell of the Rubber” is one of those instances. It opens with an unusually sexy verse that finishes with that rare moment of self-awareness. “When you lie you look like you’ve come / But as if you came in public / Slightly nervous, red-faced / But deep down I know you love it” is followed by “And when I cry you look like you’ve come (again) / And don’t even try to hide this time / I’m sure there’s warnings somewhere here / But no, I’m sure that we’ll be fine.” And then it goes on to explain how this woman quickly moved into obsession and won’t leave him alone. Sigh.
Even when Sega Bodega moves into interesting musical territory, the lyrical themes remain. “Heaven Knows” is based around a striking piano figure that moves into strings and synths as the song goes along. Lyrically it’s a fantasy about a woman metaphorically killing him and ripping out his soul, mixed with themes of drug use and overdose. Still, at least this is explicitly a fantasy. “Raising Hell” is a sexy slow jam with really nice use of vocoded vocals. And these lyrics are about Navarrete trying hard to resist the temptation to use his phone apps to have virtual sex with strangers.
After hearing this album a few times, I can’t help feeling that Salvador Navarrete thinks every woman he dates is crazy, then again, maybe the women aren’t the real problem. His attitude permeates this album, and while the music is pretty enjoyable, it’s not really striking or interesting enough to push aside the attitude.