Jon Samuel, probably mostly known for his role as keyboarder/background singer in the amazing Wintersleep, released his debut “First Transmission” in 2012. I was obsessed. This album is an incredibly deep sea sweet water pearl of songwriting and I remember it to be mostly so soft and beautiful, really delicate.
A sophomore after six years seems a big deal, therefore, because first of all, what comes next after such a picture perfect debut and second of all, how much does one change as an artist after six years?
Turns out, a lot and not much, depending on what you’re looking at. Samuel is still a great songwriter and his melodies are as beautiful as ever. But “Dead Melodies” is far from that lovely light debut and starts with fuzzy guitars and a restless rhythm. With a few exceptions, this will be the tonal center point: amazing electro guitar tunes, pop melodies and grand musical gestures, the kind that invite to dance along and sing along. It’s quite possible, that this is also due to producer Loel Campbell (also from Wintersleep) who seems to have been a collaborator and who gave a lot of input and feedback on each song. And this then again makes sense because this album does have little specks of the Wintersleep sound here and there without feeling like a copy but rather a kindred spirit.
In an interview, Samuel calls the title track “vibrant” and that’s a perfect description of most of the album. It shines, it’s a go-getter album, something messily upbeat, something positive.
Like every good dish, Samuel adds texture with the rather melancholic “Modern Lovers” (which is still not sad but more subdued than vibrant and a nice little breather with a very gorgeous instrumental interlude). The following “To Repel Ghosts” is a lovely, relaxed slow-burner only to make way for the pop-tastic “Lesser Evils”. This is the kind of album that shows the attention to the tracklisting because I will assume that this works incredibly well with a Side A and a Side B on vinyl (I’d say that “Lesser Evils” is the first track on Side B?). In any case, it’s appreciated that the energy levels of the song make sense as a whole, as a former mixtape-expert, I appreciate it.
Speaking of “Lesser Evils” – I am all for power pop songs, so I obviously love this, especially since it has a little bit of early 90s, last traces of the 80s dramaturgy which gains momentum with the next song “Unloveable” which smells like that early wave of new wave-revival in the early 2000s, a stomping rhythm, an amazing guitar riff and a very catchy chorus.
I love that every song has a little different sound, a different mood, a different reference without losing the overall feel. It’s a gorgeous album as a whole. I especially appreciate that the last song is the closest to the debut album in sound and feel (the lyrics are cheeky!) but also feels like a Peter Gabriel/Paul Simon-during-their-world-music-phases-in-the-80s-song. It’s such an unexpected, cute and fun ending, it caught me by surprise. I love that.