REVIEW // Sam Evian – Premium (Saddle Creek)

sam-evian-premium

This article first appeared on God Is In The TV

As its title might suggest, the circumstances surrounding New Yorker Sam Evian’s debut record really were premium. Evian’s work as an engineer, producer and in-demand guitarist led him to befriend the founders of Brooklyn’s Figure 8 Studios, Ell Crews and Shahzad Iamally. From there, things spiralled, and Evian found himself being surrounded by a wealth of talented musicians. Austin Vaughn and Michael Coleman of Here We Go Magic, Cass McCombs collaborator Dan Iead, Steve Marlon (aka Delicate Steve) and even Eddie Barbash, the saxophonist on the Colbert show, joined him to record Premium.

With so much talent on board, surely Premium does what it says on the tin? Well, not quite. It shows some vague glimmers of each contributor’s skills but never fully unleashes them. Instead, the nine tales of life in the Big Apple are laid-back lilts that sit somewhere between George Harrison and psych maestro Connan Mockasin’s poppier moments. Opener ‘Sleep Easy’ bathes its tale of domestic inadequacy and late-night commutes in warped guitar and lightweight drums. Evian’s own voice is the most distinctive part, moving in breathy cadences across the tune like he’s singing a lullaby. He’s even more of an ethereal spirit on ‘Cactus,’ which harnesses country-tinged slide guitars redolent of Cass McCombs, as does ‘Golden Skull,’ but neither have his witty, observational depth. Indeed, much of the record washes over the listener like an overly laid-back wave. While it’s pleasant and comfortably mellow at the time, it’s genuinely difficult to remember the differences between the likes of ‘Big Car’ and ‘Tear.’

Premium comes into its own when sparkling, disco-inspired synths and electronics are introduced into the mix. They herald the introduction of ‘Dark Love,’ and continue to pepper it throughout. It’s not maximalist or at all in-your-face, but they add some more texture to the wispy melodies. It even has a two-minute outro where 70’s organ mixes with a seemingly improvised sax solo; if Evian wanted to evoke images of a rather grim New York, he succeeds here. Evian’s voice is all but completely obscured by vocal effects on ‘Carolina,’ but rather than being annoying, it’s actually thoroughly intriguing, like a sci-fi version of a downbeat Sly and the Family Stone number.

The real highlight of the record, however, is ‘I Need A Man,’ a track written after a number of stories emerged of sexual abuse in the music industry. It’s here where everything combines perfectly. The soft cymbals, twang of Americana-infused guitars, flourishes of synth and wailing saxophone are completely attuned. Evian’s own ephemeral vocals are also at their best, reflecting a deep sense of vulnerability when it’s needed the most.

It’s difficult to say that there’s anything inherently wrong with Premium. Its biggest crime is that it’s happy to be a pleasant meander, choosing only to stretch its stellar personnel occasionally. So Premium might not be the first-rate experience that it suggests, but it’s definitely not your own-brand basics range either.

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