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Samiyam - Sam Baker’s Album

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Artist: Samiyam

Album: Sam Baker’s Album

Label: Brainfeeder

Review date: Jun. 27, 2011

Last night I had a crazy dream. When I woke up, I was flooded with emotion, terrified and deeply moved for reasons that were just outside my grasp. Everyone’s had this happen to them, where for a second it all seems so real and then moments or minutes later it’s nearly impossible to find the thread. When trying to describe it, all you can say is "I don’t know, it was crazy."

Listening to Samiyam’s newest, Sam Baker’s Album, feels eerily similar to this mundane bit of metaphysical grappling. Baker constructs a world where everything is so wrong it’s right again, a mosaic of instrumental sorta-hip hop that swirls and lurches where it should groove, that collapses where it should strut and yet nonetheless comes together as something compelling and enjoyable. His formula is so off and weird that it should be fascinating, but like describing a dream, the actual experience of Baker’s music is basically flat, if inoffensive.

The ingredients are easy enough to parse out and are rigorously consistent: drums that drive the beat only by the most lethargic, ultra-faded criteria, brontosaurus bass that slips in and out of time and seasick synths that cut through the mix only when nothing else is happening. It’s a cool trick. By subverting each instrument’s strengths and using it in exactly the wrong way, Samiyam alchemizes a drooling, slurred alternate to hip hop’s quantized clarity.

That’s totally fine, not a problem in the slightest. The rub is in his recycling of the exact same ingredients across 17 tracks. I was mostly familiar with Samiyam’s output on Hyperdub, and was pretty startled by how much of Sam Baker’s Album sounds nearly identical to that work. More importantly, most of these songs sound pretty damn close to each other, too. After checking the first three or four, the game is very apparent and the druggy, enveloping qualities stop taking hold.

Also, the songs are all really short. Opener and standout "Escape" is the longest at 3:46, but many hover in the 1:15-1:45 zone. Again, not a fatal flaw; J Dilla (an obvious influence) did something similar with Donuts, and Dam-Funk (a worthy peer) has only slightly longer running times on Toeachizown. But unlike either of those slam dunks, Sam Baker’s Album fails to work the work the track blitz to its fullest potential. Simply put, 40 minutes isn’t nearly long enough for a record filled essentially with sketches, and two-ish minutes isn’t enough time to make a song-sized statement. Donuts only has one track over two minutes, but it also has 31 tracks in total. By the end you’re done, you’ve been through something. Toeachizown is a double album. If you’re going to spray your audience with ideas, moving on to a new one just as they’re getting settled into the last one, it helps to have a lot of ideas and a lot of time.

Baker pretty much only has one idea, and although it’s solid, he could benefit from a shift in approach. Either go deeper with the formula so that each song is a fully-realized piece or open it up so that more stuff can sneak in. Committing to neither results in a frustratingly "B+" album, one that contains all the trappings of a freaky plunge into the unknown but in the end is just a bunch of tracks.

By Daniel Martin-McCormick

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