Review Summary: The Format - Bite sized. Sam Means uses his years of experience to create a wonderfully sensible and deep, if not short debut outing
For anyone out there concerned they’ll never hear the dusty pop sound of The Format ever again, the orchestral injected Zombies sound, mixed with Nate’s luscious vocals and tasteful instrumentation, you’re in look – for the most part.
Sam Means’ debut EP, NONA, named after his young daughter Lola is a realist pop record to hold The Format torch high with catchy melodies, surprisingly strong vocals and though short, is just as engaging time and time again through every listen.
The EP opens with ‘I Will Follow (That’s All)’ and is exactly as any swirling track of his ex-band would be, the tempo is bewitched and the instrumentation is equipped with rag-time heavy piano, calculated, foot stomping drums and a sincerely grinning melody that sets a circus-canvas tone for the opening of this charismatic EP.
Following this is are the opening lines to ‘Something in The Air’
“I’m alive, as I can be.” Sam Means states his existence in music, that Nate Ruess isn’t the only one to be releasing material prior to the dismemberment of The Format. It’s a typical catchy song with a chorus that’ll have your ears suckling every last, spicy drop of the hook and aching for more upon the inevitable ending of the track.
It’s a track soaked in influence but like The Format, these influences feel organic, inherited even and are dressed with such pride that it truly reflects what a fan of the genre Means really is, which too will be a gift to anyone who likes The Format or the bands that influenced them, such as The Zombies or The Beach Boys.
‘Long Way Down’ is by far the standout track in my opinion. Vocally Sam is at his giddy top here, waltzing in his stride of testing his vocal complexity with characterisation and abstraction often performed by his former vocalist, Nate Ruess and musically speaking the track delivers a devilishly captivating pop sound with humming guitars and a pounding drum beat that would satisfy any fan of psychedelic pop music.
“Can anyone teach me to write something that I couldn’t say before"”
He speaks in honesty, being as humble with his talents as he is, he only then proves himself more human a lyricist as he finely cuts that line between artist and listener. There is really no wall between him and his fans and it makes NONA even that more enjoyable a listen.
The final track slows things down and is so brutally honest, it’s hard not to relate in some fashion. The production, recorded in the studio Means built himself is perfectly adapted to the mood of the song, through a purposely raspy vocal mix that eventually shatters on the latter half of the track as the song opens up with percussion and an accordion as Sam Means spreads his musical colour across the closing track of the EP (minus the bonus track if you’re lucky enough to have listened to that too)
“Every Father has his chance to fail.”
When words like this are spoken from a young Father, it really hits you; the vulnerability of a man so desperate to succeed is always something to pay a certain respect for admitting and this creates a dome of scented aesthetic amongst the music. Though the music is a fluttery cloud before, it is injected with this honest concern that soaks the song in a dripping paint of yellow coloured cowardice and uncertainty. When you create emotion like this in pop music, you know you’ve shattered that menacing glass of depth.
The end result is an experienced EP from an honest, easy-going and open man who wears his musical influences like a cape to take to the skies of melody and structure. My only complaint is that this outing isn’t a longer affair, only one track breaking that three minute barrier. Still, if this is only a taste of what Sam Means can do, then paint me as an interested listener. In fact, if the Means plans to release a full length LP, it is something every Format fan should be excited for. For now, we have NONA and it is gorgeous.