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Nicolas Losada and Juliana Ronderos used to be called Il Abanico, and they made sour, frothy guitar pop, whipping tension into meringue peaks. The set up was straightforward-rock-band, and you could hear hints and flecks of Blonde Redhead in what they were doing. Now, they call themselves Salt Cathedral, an evocative and Biblical-sounding name that seems to make reference to the underground Roman church built in a salt mine inthe town of Zipaquirá, a small enclave about 80 miles from Bogotá. ("Don’t lick the walls," one Google Plus user advises.) Ronderos and Losada are from Colombia originally, having settled in Brooklyn, and their music has a strange, evocative bite even as it mines a lot of familiar-sounding sources.
They work exclusively in synths, samples, and keyboard patches, and they make a bookish, the Books-ish version of electro-pop, one where Ronderos' airy croon melts into the upper register of the song, joined by a bunch of bells, chimes, pealing guitars, and other aviary noises. The salt cathedral that inspired them might be dank and subterranean, but their debut EP, Oom Velt, is all wide-open sky and breezes.
Songs like "Holy Soul" and "Tease" are essentially strobing pop songs, as immediate and cool to the touch as Ellie Goulding's "Lights", but with a few precise angles knocked out of joint. "Holy Soul" loops Ronderos' own voice repeating the affecting line "We won't let our hearts forget this time," turning it onto gum strung across the clicking song's gears. The way the sample is clipped, however, sounds uncannily like "Always forget this time," turning the song into a dialogue with itself. She sings other iterations of the sentiment as synth patches and guitars turn to vapor behind her—"forget this time," "get this time," "fade away this time," as the song morphs slowly into a meditation on the impossibility of holding onto memories.
Small, pocket-change moments like this give Salt Cathedral's smooth music its few edges and wrinkles. Ronderos is in charge of the sampler, while Losada supplies the tight, supple guitar accompaniment: Live, they have a crackling energy that turns into air-conditioning, slightly, on record. There are moments where the mix is so agreeably anonymous it threatens to become music for empty hotel bars, Morcheeba playing to a single well-dressed bartender. "Tease", with its "Can't Get You Out of My Head"-referring club pulse and "la-la-la" hook, is both the catchiest song on the EP and also the most likely to escape your notice while it's playing.
The best moments on Oom Velt are the ones where they tread the line between nagging and soothing. The title track, the only instrumental, shifts around small elements in headphone space—synths, samples, and clipped coos all swirl together, and the sensation is a bit like sifting through a bag of change. The small pieces accrete weight when you gather them up: "Good Winds" starts out with a koan similar to "Holy Soul"–"Now I'm lost, can't go on." Behind her, a comping jazz guitar twinkles. The threat of trip-hop Muzak approaches, but then they beat it back–Ronderos' voice hiccups and glitches in a few surprising spots, and the song's bedsheets wrinkle, just enough.