I really hope Josef Salvat isn’t the next Lana Del Rey. Early indications are what has me worried. I’ve only known about Salvat, a singer from Sydney now doing the globetrotting thing, for about 25 minutes. In that time, however, having scratched the surface, I found probably more hype than I ever wanted to contemplate. There is something to claiming you ‘discovered’ an act, sure. That’s rarely ever the case. But there is definitely something debilitating about digging a new artist on a first listen on someone else’s arbitrary recommendation only to find, upon the most basic of research missions, that not only does everyone else know of the kid but everyone else is championing him as the next big thing, a kind of Morrissey for the masses. I don’t mind being beaten to the punch – Salvat obviously has a sizeable following as is. What I do mind is the hyperbole that’s come with the punches before mine, suggesting he’s the next Gotye, the next big thing, the next Lana Del Rey. Comparisons are useful when it comes to new artists but Salvat, as wonderful as the first two tracks I’ve heard from him are, needs a little breathing room. Load him up with more expectation before he even drops an EP (only recently played his first show!) and the whole thing will collapse in a heap of buzz. In other words, Leave Joseph Salvat alone!
Part of my concern stems from a sense of empathy. I feel like, in another life, I could feasibly be the young Sydney law student who releases a couple of warmly received tracks back in 2010 only to re-emerge in January, 2013 with a powerful new track (‘This Life‘) and decide to rejig an oldie (‘Hustler’) because it was such a damned fine track to begin with. If I was the alternate universe Josef Salvat, I’d sit myself down, take a couple of deep breaths, listen to the newly remastered ‘Hustler’ and assure myself listening to that track that, even if the entire PR machine went bust tomorrow, I still have one of the most distinctive sounds out there today. Moving away from the intensely manufactured and manipulated sounds that dominate the airwaves, I’d tell myself, I have embraced a real pop-writer’s sensibility in delivering lyrics that are at once personal and universally relatable and almost unprecedented in their subject matter. Nobody else writes music about vulnerable guys! I’d slap myself on the back. You’re out there repping a whole gender in a way it hasn’t been repped before. Ignore the hype. Stay true to your songwriting ambition, I’d pep-talk to myself.
Alas, I am not Josef Salvat and so my hypothetical inspirational speech falls on deaf ears but, listening to ‘Hustler’ for the fifth or sixth time straight, I’d be mighty proud if I was. First single ‘This Life‘ has been lauded as a pop ballad but annoys me a bit for its ponderous, slightly Del Reyian take on growing up. ‘Hustler’ suffers from no such strange airs but is instead forthright and direct, grabbing you with the crispness of Salvat’s vocals and the way those thunderous toms are played off against them to reinforce his susceptibility. His vocal delivery lends his lyrics a spoken-word quality such that this work might be readily accepted within the growing ranks of experimental RnB but the delicateness of the musical accompaniment skews away from this and towards more traditional balladry. It is this internal conundrum that makes ‘Hustler’ a tense and thrilling listen. The song has so much more invested in it than the vague whimsy that tends to characterise Lana Del Rey tracks and yet, the intense media interest in Salvat suggests he might be about to veer onto the same career path as the pouting, SNL disaster. So listen to ‘Hustler’, dig its sombre, reflective vibes and new, enhanced production, think to yourself ‘this is one great song, this guy could be big’, but don’t tell a soul.
Josef Salvat – Hustler