Album Review: Samiam – “Trips”

“I’ve finally figured out/I need to be around…I’ve been away for too long” sings Samiam frontman Jason Beebout in the closing refrain of “80 West,” the opening track of the band’s new full-length “Trips.” Given that “Trips” is the band’s first album in five years (and only their second release in the last eleven years), a logical response to this is: “no shit!”

“80 West” kicks “Trips” off in trademark Samiam style: a quick, uptempo modern-rock-friendly pop-punk with a drumbeat that pushes the gas pedal while the guitars trade power chords and an earnest melodic riff. “Clean Up” finds Beebout, ever the optimist, putting himself back together after a relationship went awry. The sound is a little more mid-90s radio uptempo radio rock, a sound that Samiam do so well that it has often left at least one writer (me) wondering why they never achieved more stardom, as their music towered over the likes of the Marcy Playgrounds and the Dishwallas and the American Hi-Fis and the Lemonheads of the world.

One thing that impresses me about “Trips” is that Samiam aren’t afraid to vary the tempo and experiment with different sounds. Drummer Charlie Walker’s relentless, unwavering snare attack drives tracks like “September Holiday” and “Crew of One”, a style that would get old or at least difficult to listen to if every song matched the same level of speed and intensity.

Thankfully, there are many different feels to the album, from “How Would You Know” with its periodic acoustic guitar melody and soaring vocals in the chorus, to “Free Time” with its syncopated verses and uptempo, poppy choruses, to “El Dorado” with its atmospheric vocals and arpeggiated, minor chord, mid-tempo melody (not to mention the “I Wear My Sunglasses At Night” riff). Beebout takes on an almost shoe-gazer drone in “Did You Change” which, when combined with the song’s bombastic drum sound and distorted power chords give it the feel of a Queens of the Stone Age track. Album closer “Did You Change?” is filled with layer-upon-layer of synthesized background, and could pass for The Shins.

Beebout revisits a lot of the same topics that get covered by punk and modern rock bands: boredom, isolation, freedom, failed relationships, but manages to seem genuine and sincere in doing so, forcing you to buy into what the band are selling. There really isn’t a sour note on the album, and from the first listen it quickly established itself as one of the most honest, catchy, complex albums I’ve been lucky enough to review this year.

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