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Sam Flax - Age Waves

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Artist: Sam Flax

Album: Age Waves

Label: Burger

Review date: Oct. 10, 2012

Sam Flax’s Age Waves is an enjoyable pastiche of 1980s college rock, and for the Hollywood elevator pitch/possible future PR tweet: it sounds oddly like something that belonged on 4AD during the label’s gauzy heyday, with a bit of The Smiths’ aesthetic thrown in to the mix (147 characters — MT that). This is good, as nostalgia for that era of independent rock is as strong as it’s ever been, and I can recognize intellectually that this is a decent album … but at the same time there’s something opaque about Flax’s debut that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for me to emotionally connect with it.

Age Waves certainly gives the listener a sense of what kind of music Flax likes and a sense of the aesthetic that Flax enjoys and wants to put into the world. However, rather than try to convey a story or an experience or an emotion, the album seems designed to communicate that aesthetic. Obviously not every album has to be a personal journey or something that digs deep into the audience’s psyche or something the rips apart your heart. Some music is intellectual and other kinds are primarily aesthetic, i.e. “this is an interesting texture / timbre / chord progression.” Flax opts for the latter.

In the process of reincarnating past artists, Flax obfuscates himself. Perhaps he’s intentionally hiding behind pastiche. Or maybe he’s saying, “This is an aesthetic I like — a way of making music I like — and that’s what I want people to hear.” In either event, Flax’s high vocals are buried under nostalgic production and pushed somewhat low in the mix, and it’s tough to see him as a person, as opposed to a musician that is enamored with a certain time period.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Flax or Age Waves. Having an interesting aesthetic is nice and being able to work in nostalgic styles can be exciting for both the artist, who gets to resurrect something, and the audience, who gets to hear familiar music that fills a hole. But the lack of any emotional component is a hurdle that leaves Flax susceptible to obsolescence as soon as the next nostalgic LP leaks. Then again, one man’s hurdle is another man’s raised piece of wood.

By Andrew Beckerman

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