Sam Wilkes



by Sowing STAFF
January 8th, 2024 | 6 replies

Release Date: 10/06/2023 | Tracklist

Review Summary: A mesmerizing avant jazz-folk endeavor that is ambitious yet reassuring, intricate but still very lush, and while unassuming, still undoubtedly one of 2023's best records

Sam Wilkes is best known for his contributions to experimental nu-jazz, but with 2023's incredibly warm and vibrant Driving, that might be about to change. It's the first album that Wilkes self-released, and it also represents a pivot to indie/chamber folk that is beautiful enough to score introspective moments all while retaining Wilkes' creative instrumental flair. Driving is a mesmerizing avant jazz-folk endeavor that is ambitious yet reassuring, intricate but still very lush, and while unassuming, still undoubtedly one of 2023's best records.

Things immediately get off to a gorgeously swirling and bubbling start with 'Folk Home', which features complex chords and warped vocals, but also rustic strings and an overarching atmosphere of serenity. The whole song feels like it's gradually building towards something, but naturally rather than forcibly. Wilkes' jazz influences shine during a lot of Driving, but they're particularly strong here where the songwriting is unstructured and lively. If 'Folk Home' showcases the album's complex energy, then 'Ag' sees it thawing a bit. As perhaps the most melodically pleasing moment on the record, the song simply melts into your heart and mind with its stunning blend of acoustic guitars, infectious percussion, and electronic vocals. Again, we're greeted with a sense of wonderful sensory contradiction; on the one hand, 'Ag' is hushed by nature and feels familiarly, comfortingly, rooted in its indie-rock identity. Yet, it's also entirely experimental and forward-thinking, almost like a chilled out futuristic folk song. It's absolutely jaw-dropping. 'Hannah Song' is another gush of pure aesthetic warmth, with its slide guitar and rich, luscious acoustic licks bringing forth an instrumental verdant country oasis. 'Own' is another highlight with its progressive arrangement, beautiful arpeggios, and poignant, swelling strings; it's the sort of track that grounds the album's oft-ethereal nature with a tangible sense of melancholy. By the time the moment winds to a close and you're somehow already halfway through Driving, it becomes abundantly clear that this is the kind of experience that is both spellbinding and satisfyingly real - it gives off the sensation of effortlessly washing over you, but it's thoroughly gripping the entire time.

'Knows' and 'Conga' comprise Driving's midsection with their breathtaking instrumental whimsy; the former with its immaculately produced but hazy jam session atmosphere which builds to a dense, frenzied percussive rustle, and the latter with its airy, light-as-a-feather woodwind/synth-driven aura of pure bliss. They're the kind of tracks that seem like they should pass by relatively unnoticed - and perhaps in lesser hands they might - but Wilkes is somehow able to conjure magic out of even the simplest notions and turn them into astonishingly gorgeous vibes. It's really the story of Driving as a whole, although 'Knows' and 'Congo' are excellent case studies in an artist making less sound like more. The humorous sequence of 'Again, Again' and the penultimate 'And Again' in succession gives the record a feeling of titular continuity that it honestly doesn't even need because the atmosphere is so unified on a broader aesthetic scale. Each songs retains Driving's soft, soothing buzz, but they also represent unique wrinkles in their own right. 'Again Again' feels more rock-inclined with its well-defined drums rumbling to the forefront while synths and subtle electric guitars saw away in the background. Once again, Wilkes' warbles cut in and out of the mix, his vocals serving as more of an accent to the music than an actual driving force - but it's difficult to argue with his methods when the results are so euphoric and harmonious. 'And Again' is a freely flowing experimental opus, swaying over the course of its seven minutes between gliding ambience and enveloping melody, whilst often detouring to indulge whims of splendor; whether it's the unexpected but perfectly placed keyboard noodling, or the way the percussion slowly surges near the ending like some sort of slow-motion tsunami crashing into the shore. Almost as if to snap us out of our collective trance - to rein us back in from the clouds and plant our feet firmly into the grass - the curtain-call and eponymous title track is a straight-up pastoral folk stunner in a similar vein as Simon & Garfunkel or Sufjan Stevens - the acoustics ring out beautifully, and Wilkes' voice is clear and to-the-point. It's the sound of Sam Wilkes emphatically driving home one of the most spectacularly lush albums of the entire decade along with what figures to be a career achievement for the multi-talented artist.

Driving is one of those albums that is difficult to find but impossible to forget. Wilkes' music isn't exactly prevalent, but those who've stumbled upon his work have become disciples. Driving takes elements of his jazz roots and fuses them with folk, chamber pop, and various ambient/electronic atmospheric inclinations to create something that is absolutely blissful on the ears. The progressions, textures, and quality of production make this one of the best folk-oriented releases to hit the airwaves in quite some time. Sink into it and drift off to its perfection.

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user ratings (8)

Comments:Add a Comment 
January 9th 2024


yoo!! i really liked the 2018 release. will check this!!!

Staff Reviewer
January 9th 2024


Album Rating: 3.8

Nice album and nice review! Hadn't heard of this guy before.

January 11th 2024


Album Rating: 4.5

Fantastic record, it is kinda sad that I just found out about it.

January 12th 2024


Just found out about it [2]

January 16th 2024


will check

February 5th 2024


this is swank

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