12 years seems like a long time. But …..
12 years ago I went to lots of gigs, worked in a job I couldn’t stand, and my football team was crap. Like Tom Kiefer sang all those years ago, The more things change.
Back in 2011, though, I was in the middle of discovering Hot Water Music because I loved The Gaslight Anthem (the way it works made sense in my head) and as always, when I hear something I love, I am off down what’s now called a “Rabbit Hole”, back in those days, it was just looking for stuff. And I found Oakland’s punks (I am never sure they are, but their bio says they are so…..) Samiam.
They’d had about two million members (Green Day’s Tre Cool was for a bit – this was even recorded in Billy Joe Armstrong’s studio) and they made brilliant music.
Gloriously, you can change that “made” from the past-tence, to “make” in the present, because after 12 years (see, there was a point to that bollocks) here comes “Stowaway” and – in the words of The Wildhearts (if you know, you know) “now they’re back, its like they never really went away”.
From the moment “Lake Speed” bursts out of the blocks, it’s unmistakably Samiam. The riffing between Sean Kennerly and Sergie Loobkoff and the gravel-like, yet mellifluous vocals from Jason Beebout (these are three who’ve kept the flame burning, if you will) is perfect, the sloganeering lyrics. The fact that it doesn’t initially seem to be catchy in the conventional sense, yet it lodges in your head.
That’s what they always did. And as much as Beebout sings “it was a game I never learned to play” at the end of “Crystallised” – and the history of the band has many bumps along the way, from being caught up in major label politics to beyond – they seem to master it just fine.
This is a sensational record. Genuinely brilliant. “Lights Out Little Hustler” and “Shoulda Stayed”, showcase the band’s ability to straddle the lines between punk and rock, making something that’s not quite either, but is most certainly both. The former has a deceptive hook . These songs demonstrate the band’s willingness to experiment and push boundaries, “Shut Down” follows suit with a chugging sound reminiscent of the aforementioned Hot Water Music.
“Scout Knife” bursts onto the scene without any preamble, displaying an urgency that carries through the entire song and its first line: “can’t wait for something good to happen, don’t wanna be here anymore” underlines the frustrations that still burn.
And as much as you notice the music first on this, then “Monterey Canyon” is a departure from the rest of the album, with a more introspective feel. The lyrics suggest a willingness to say goodbye, adding to the emotional depth of the record.
“Natural Disasters” has a darker sound with the bass taking centre stage. The shift in tone may be unexpected, but it’s a welcome change that showcases the band’s versatility. “Stanley” sounds like a blast from the past with its old-school sound mixed with modern lyrics – some of these were written as far back as 2014 and I am willing to bet this was one. “Highwire” adds dynamics to the album, with a mix of loud and quiet moments that has a real 90s feel.
“I wanna be something I still wanna be” goes the hook on “Something” and doubtless, they wanted to be Samiam again. The title track – which ends things here – changes the pace with a groovier feel that’s different from the rest. Maybe a hint at the future? Possibly, but that’s for way down the road, for now, just be glad they’re back and didn’t keep “Stowaway” hidden. Welcome back. See you in 2035?