Review Summary: Happy birthday Sam
It’s an obvious yet inevitable occurrence that when anyone from the Brainfeeder roster releases an album that the critics immediately rush for the Dilla comparisons. As trivial as these comparisons have become they’re also somewhat pertinent and necessary to adequately sum up everything that Samiyam’s Cali-anthems are ultimately trying to tap into. His melancholic and weepy melodies aside, Dilla was one of the few able to almost effortlessly conjure up such a timeless canvass; one that he would then enthusiastically paint over with in garish shades of molten hue. His music re-invigorated a scene into not just remembering its past, but to dive head-first into it and bring it into the present, and spice it up and tailor it to fit their own needs and wants. And while his untimely passing shocked the hip hop community into remembrance, it was the likes of Flylo and company who would end up appropriating Dilla’s ideals for their own devices; drawing on that canvas of his before covering it in their own designs. And out of all who have emerged from Planet Brainfeeder it’s Samiyam who bears the most comparison to the master; such is his music more rooted in hip hop than the more tangible and glitchy fragments of The Gaslamp Killer and Steven Ellison himself.
That’s not to say that Samiyam doesn’t stray too far into anything conventional, in fact far from it. His beats still carry that obvious wonky appeal to them with their collapsing drums and flirtatious keys riding underneath a flurry of 8-bit Nintendo glory. It shares a line of dialogue with the same style that has become the next wave of Bristol music, spearheaded by the likes of Guido, Joker and Gemmy. But Sam’s beats remain inextricably linked to the old school mixtape swappings of yesteryear; kids huddled behind school walls, eagerly passing back and forth scratchy cassettes and warped vinyls of fabricated beats and hip hop joints in stressed attempts to find that new sound or direction. In fact Samiyam’s music wouldn’t feel totally out of place snugly nestled next to Dr. Dre’s early G-Funk output; his heady dose of wonky synths the only true separating point. But instead of taking that early hip hop sound and twisting it into something new and distinctive, Sam instead takes the old and the new and places them side by side before folding them over each other. He indulges his obsession for nostalgia; at times his joints play out like any instrumental hip hop mixtape inclusion, delicately thriving off their own propulsion, just relentlessly pushing on in cruise control.
He also never does more than is absolutely needed; he prefers to just let the beat be, he gives it space to breathe and the clearance to grow if needed. This is, in a way, Samiyam’s greatest strength as a producer; while he indulges his obvious loves all too frequently, he makes sure to space everything out instead of drowning each note and key with unnecessary clutter. A track like ‘My Buddy’ works because of this restraint; while every jarring squeal and snare hit is precise, there’s a decidedly chilled out and relaxed vibe present in the mix. While every track on here remains a piece of one big puzzle, they’re still wholly separate with their ambitions. Sam takes one idea and runs with it, always individually. He never over-laps or attempts to throw contrasting elements together in hopes that something revelatory will emerge. ‘Pressure’ is another example of this spaced out atmosphere; its late night sex appeal would ultimately wind up in tatters when stripped of that one defining woozy jazz line, or if he chose to drown it under a sea of punchy neon. These narcotic anthems are so effective because they’re so delicate and dream-like; they float just over your head than appear forceful.
Given that he’s decided to borrow from California’s biggest trailblazers he does bury his music in a staggering amount of swagger and flair though. Even wrapped up in his drunken percussion he manages to exude a fair amount of pomp and style. ‘Understanding’ revels in this confident approach, with its other-worldly bass literally pouring over the teary-eyed synths. Or on ‘Cushion’ where he attempts to capture early boom-bap and drop it into a mountain of bells and whistles and toppling percussion, all falling over each other like an electronic avalanche. The only true problem with this album, much like Zomby’s recent take on wonky, is how short the overall process is. But once you let the album start to sink in you start to realize that there really isn’t a great deal that could have been done with each track that wasn’t already thought of and then carried out. Each track accomplishes everything necessary in their short run-time before disappearing into a thick cloud of hazy smoke. If Samiyam’s motto was to never ruin a good thing, he proves it here.
In terms of recent Brainfeeder releases, Sam Baker’s Album
doesn’t reach the out there eccentric nature of Cosmogramma
but it never strives too. It follows a very direct and unforgiving path, but within those confines Samiyam has meticulously crafted one of the great beat albums of the year; he ultimately rises well above the barriers he’s placed around himself. But while he’s still heavily indebted to Dilla and hip hop music in general, Rap Beats Vol. 2
this is not.