A couple of years ago, I took on one of those “20 albums in 20 days that made an impact” Facebook threads. It was probably started by some marketer looking to mine data, but I enjoyed it enough (or was wordy enough) that my wife Elisa started putting a bug in my ear about starting a blog. One of my posts was about Salt Horse’s The Best Of Times? (“Heavy but hooky. Heady but humorous.”) Since in a way The Best Of Times? helped inspire me to blog, it's still making an impact. The more I listen to it, the more impressed I am by just how brilliant the album is. It sounds as fresh today as it did when it was released in 2001.
Derailleur Records – DR009CD
Salt Horse's self-titled debut was released in 1997. The band spent over two years recording its follow-up. “Salt Horse is recording its second album at John Schwab Studios in Columbus, with a release date this summer,” The Dispatch noted in March 2000, well over a year before The Best Of Times? was ultimately released. That amount of time spent recording might give some people pause, but in this case, the end result reveals that the process was worth it. The time was not misspent. With Constantine Hondroulis replacing Jeff Trebonik on bass, the lineup was set. Joe Viers shared production duties with the band.
The results are impressive. It sounds great, but it doesn’t sound labored over. The immediacy of the music is one of its assets. From the production to the playing to the cover art to, most importantly, the songs, The Best Of Times? is exceptional. While many Columbus rock bands at the time were making lo-fi recordings either by choice or necessity, Salt Horse went the other way.
The band poked fun at attempts to pigeonhole their style with the same wry sense of humor that permeated everything they did. “Rockingly toe-tapping, super-group, sing along songs. Born in 1995, Salt Horse is grown up kids playing tomorrow’s classic rock. Salt Horse doesn’t write hooks, they write knock-out uppercuts,” their website declared. Salt Horse found an appropriate home for The Best Of Times? on Brad Liebling’s Derailleur Records, an eclectic Columbus label that also didn’t hew to a particular sound.
"He ran a really inclusive label," Lou Poster (Grafton, Drift Mouth) told Alive in 2019 after Liebling's untimely passing. “It wasn't based on a sound. It was based on a quality. It wasn't Americana music. It wasn't punk rock or hard rock. It was just, 'It's good. I like it. Let's do it.' That was Brad's philosophy with getting music out."
Once they finally completed the album, a CD release show was set for October 20, 2001, at Little Brother’s with Grafton, Pretty Mighty Mighty and The Marcy Mays Experience sharing the bill. Derailleur even pressed a compilation CD just for the occasion.
The Best Of Times? comes out hot with “Mic Rauk,” a tale of paranoia and anxiety that seems even more relevant today. “This is the news that could make you cry, please don’t answer the phone,” sings guitarist/lead vocalist Milan Karcic. It’s a harrowing tale with hooks for days.
Heavy rock with killer melodies is a surprisingly rare combination and Salt Horse did it as well as anyone. And make no mistake, they are Heavy, but they cut it with strikingly clean and unaffected vocals and great songwriting that make it go down smoothly. Salt Horse had dynamics. They were as heavy as any metal band, and they could be as delicate as a jazz band. They played all sorts of venues with all types of bands.
Lyrically, the songs mix biting cynicism (“And everyday it just gets worse / when I look around what I see hurts / truth and kindness is what I miss / all of it’s gone, that makes me pissed.” (“It’s All Over… Man”)) with sardonic humor. They were calling out the “keggers and date rape” campus culture over a decade before the MeToo Movement in “Campus Riot Fight Song.” “We wanted to create a shocking sound like (Hondroulis’ former band) Our Flesh Party because they rocked harder than anybody,” Karcic told The Lantern at the time.
“Messing With Me” starts with a feedback fade-in before a Karcik scream and bone-crushing riff. Hondroulis and Cox make a formidable rhythm section, air-tight on deceptively complex songs. Check Hondroulis’ bass tone on “People.” It’s got that slightly loose rattle that sits just right in the mix. Cox is dynamic - not afraid to take fills, but always serving the songs. And Milan manages to balance a persona as a frontman that’s somehow enigmatic, diffident, and brazen all at once. Plus, what a voice.
Writer/record store owner/label head/promoter/DJ Curt Schieber seemed to appreciate Salt Horse. He even inadvertently inspired the title of their follow-up, Year Of The Horse:
“Despite what any Chinese restaurant placemat might read, 2001 is the year of the Salt Horse. The Columbus rock band's new album, The Best of Times? sounds unlike anything one hears on modern-rocking FM because it sounds like a rock 'n' roll record. The singer, Milan Karcic, sings loud and strong with conviction, occasionally sounding like Paul Stanley.” - Columbus Dispatch October 18, 2001
“Leaden and full of groove, Salt Horse's second album, The Best Of Times, doesn't shy from the thundering rock music of any previous decade. The Columbus band straddles pop music's fashion fences… The album, though, exhibits no trace of musical schizophrenia. Full of humor, blood-and-guts drive, and good instincts, it thumbs its nose at stylistic labels with glee. From heavy rock to driving pop, catchy melodies to pile-driving power chords, it doesn't sound strained or contrived. - Dispatch January 3, 2002
It's a dark album released at a dark time, just over a month after 9/11. Fortunately, they wouldn’t take quite as long on their next album. Schieber was off by a year - 2002 would be the Year Of The Horse.
1 Mic Rauk
2 It's All Over..Man
3 Lovely Day
4 Pretty Flower
6 Campus Riot Fight Song
9 Somewhere In Between
Copyright © – Salt Horse
Recorded At – John Schwab Recording