Too safe to be alt, and too hookless to be pop
Salt Ashes describes her music as “unapologetic, dark Alternative-Pop.” An attractive descriptor but misleading. Really, the UK-based singer’s brand of pop isn’t nearly as dark or experimental as she’d like one to believe. Sonically, it even sounds like it’d be right at home on Top 40 radio at times.
In and of itself, this isn’t a bad thing—slick, synthetic pop has its uses, and it goes without saying that plenty of great music falls under the umbrella. “Pop” isn’t a dirty word, and if Salt Ashes (real name Veiga Sanchez) wants to situate herself in that lane, even if she won’t completely own up to it, then good for her. The problem with her latest album, Killing My Mind, is that its pop songcraft is just as lacking as its purported alt inclinations. Call it alt-pop, or call it plain old pop—Killing My Mind is unmemorable either way.
On the alt front, this record fails simply because Salt Ashes plays it too safe, flirting with edgier sounds without fully committing. The sputtering, arena rock-sized drum break on “I’m Not Scared to Die” recalls the industrial leanings of Depeche Mode, as do the fleeting bursts of guitar noise that punctuate “Too Many Times.” But this is the most these moments ever amount to—fleeting bursts. They’re never sustained, and they’re never allowed to actually push the boundaries of the pop song.
Even worse, the production is so sterile that it dilutes any semblance of bite or menace that might be culled from these tracks, and renders them unable to signify darkness. At their best, her attempts at edgy lyrics fall just as flat. At their worst, they sound straight-up goofy, like on “Mad Girl,” when she sings, “No one fucks me like myself/ She’s a mad girl/ I’m a mad girl.”
So Killing My Mind isn’t much of an alt-pop album—fine. But as straightforward pop, it doesn’t fare much better. Things begin promising enough with the opening track, “Lucy,” a smokey, neon-drenched club banger complete with hand claps, a stabbing synth line and an intoxicating chorus. But after this, the hooks are few and far between. Other than the opener and the title track, there’s nary an earworm to be found. A large swath of the album is unmemorable—not just the melodies, but also the way they’re performed, like on the chorus of “Body Says,” sung in a candy-coated tone that’s sanitized to the point of anonymity. A pop record shouldn’t be this difficult to recall, even after multiple listens.
With its sterile production and unwillingness to push the envelope, Killing My Mind is too safe to work as an alt record, and its weak songwriting makes it fail as a pop one to boot. It seems Salt Ashes still has a ways to go before she finds her voice and cements her creative vision—last year, an online magazine begged the question: “Who TF is Salt Ashes?” One album later, and we still have no clue.