Hi, welcome back, I know it’s been a while, I hope that’s okay. Attending shows every week for 6 months straight does surprisingly get a little drab (or something) after a while.
But the music keeps going and after a short break, there’s even more local music in worth reviewing. Sam Singer recently released a 4-track EP called Fatal Friends, and he’s one of the growing Birthday Tapes bands, who all seem to be releasing things recently…
I feel like Sam Singer has been playing for a while, though I didn’t get a chance to see play him until a couple weekends ago. I was curious, I knew that, because I had a friend who was sort of fangirling over this band, and she doesn’t usually fangirl (talking to someone who does all the goddamn time), so I knew it’d be worth my time to hustle down.
They played first. It was quite a lineup, with Sam opening for out of towners Tropic Harbour and Brunch Club, plus local jazzy-indie weirdos Odd Outfit. It felt like one of those lineups that could have been horizontal, like if we lived in a reality that wasn’t constructed around a linear notion of time, all four bands would have played in the same spot because they really matched each others’ prowess.
But Sam’s set stuck with me a little longer. I picked up a tape at the show, and I’ve had a healthy chance to dig right into Fatal Friends over the last couple weeks. I’ve driven to a from Lockport like three times, and you can listen to a four track tape probably close to three times each trip.
Number one favourite thing is the trumpet section of “It’s You”. Okay, that’s a tough thing to say, because there’s a number of lovely breakdowns throughout these four tracks. But this trumpet section brings a distinct bright energy that only comes with the crisp sound of a horn. While the live performance doesn’t quite have the horns section to replicate what’s on the album, they do a pretty good job. On the album, layers of trumpet and a broad overlay of keys plays a really beautiful back-and-forth of escalating melody.
They bring the whole song right down beforehand, almost like the song was about to end. But then the horns kick in and they open up this almost cacophonous section of the song that gets me fuckin’ jazzed every time.
Fatal Friends isn’t a terribly complex EP. I mean, I think the charm of Sam Singer’s songwriting comes with its subtlety and simplicity. At first listen, it sounds like he’s making some nice modern indie rock and roll. A bit heavier on the rock and roll, but definitely still pretty indie with the upbeat melodies and warm auburn guitar tone. As you keep listening though, like I do in my car with the one tape I own, you’ll notice a lot of little changes and quick flip arounds that add a dimension to his music that you don’t always find in indie rock. There’s a number of slow breaks, where they bring the song down before driving forward into a new melodic shape, and there’s a number of little changes, which are the thing that get me right in the place where I have rhythm.
I mean, there’s just enough pop in Sam Singer’s sound to make it nice and digestable. But they deviate their songwriting from that basic chorus – verse – chorus shit. They pull away sometimes, making room for the instrumentals to groove a bit more, and leaving room for neat little bridges at times. It still can get repetitive, as the songwriting still isn’t terribly complex, but it’s the sort of repetitive that grows on you. Catchy. That’s the word.
What really rounds off the sound for this group is Sam’s voice, specifically. As a whole band, they’re quite talented musicians. I knew half the group when I saw them on stage, and that was my first sign that yeah, I was going to dig it. Mitch Merrick, bassist in this band, whenever I see this guy playing in a band I bet it’s going to be good. Like I make a bet with myself. He’s not a major lead dude, doesn’t go for a lot of attention, but his basslines in Sam Singer bring much-desired personality to the tunes. He plays almost funky, jumping between notes, sometimes quickly enough to give you a bit of a bounce feeling. The notes often mirror what the guitars are doing, but the bass might even bring more complexity than the guitars offer. There’s the meat, you know? And it’s got ample deviation from the guitars too, which is delightful. Bass is a real powerful instrument and it can pull overall tones into a totally different realm for a band, and here I feel that Merrick’s bass playing really develops that overall tone, offering an upbeat foundation of thick notes.
I was impressed with Max Hamilton’s playing at the show, too. Honestly guys I’ve come to expect like simultaneously very little and the whole world from guitarists. There are so many guitarists. So many are so technically sound. But not so many can develop that different tone and feeling of something living beneath the notes. Hamilton played with the heart and skill that demonstrated both a sound and adaptive techincal ability while showing the gut and blood pushing through his fingertips to make each note. I can recall one moment specifically, probably during a guitar solo where he had a chance to let loose, a moment that grabbed me and pulled my full attention to the thorough and melodic working of fingers on strings and the simultaneously resulting melody, which pulled me further into his performance.
But with all that said, what really rounds the sound off is Sam’s voice. There’s something about it, a near-smokyness that’s more like the smoke of an urban dumpster fire than a country brush fire. And that’s not a bad thing. Sam’s voice has some dadly element of old and tired, of seen-this-done-that, of whatevers-next-is-whatever, and some of a gentle young tenderness like baby birds at the age they’re shoved out of the nest. His voice has real personality, a thick almost dull authenticity, and a soft and inviting vulnerability that could probably speak to someone at any age. And I’m pretty sure he sings about some vulnerable stuff, too.
Sam Singer is one of the few singers I’ve photographed who actually keeps his eyes open almost the whole time. He’s fully engaged, fully present, probably staring at a bunch of shadowy figures through the shitty spotlights hanging from the Daughter’s ceiling. You can feel the vulnerability in his performance, but it’s kept right on the surface next to this kind of couldn’t-care-less feeling. It’s not quite an apathy, but more of an, “oh, yeah, this again eh.” attitude. And it’s great. Vulnerability without the drama, honesty and transperancy without the show. Neat.
As a final note I want to mention this drummer is great. He received some compliments from a drummer in my life that I look up to, and as a drummer… good job man. You hold it all together, and you really perk things up when you have the space to stand out against the rest.