Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sam Patch – Yeah You, and I

Sam Patch – Yeah You, and I (Dep)

Tim Kingsbury is the last member of Arcade Fire—other than the two founders—to put out a solo record. “I never meant to bury it / But I was set in my ways … Is it too late to start again?” he asks on the opening track, “Oversight.” The answer is clear: of course not. 

His colleagues Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry and Jeremy Gara have all explored more experimental and abstract music in their solo projects; Will Butler (younger brother of co-bandleader Win Butler) put out a loose and raw rock’n’roll record (and an even looser and more raw live album immediately afterwards). All of them except Neufeld are part of a cover band on the side, Phi Slamma Jamma, playing songs by the Everly Brothers, Jonathan Richman, Neil Young, Devo, CCR, Prince and others. It’s that band’s set lists that, in retrospect, inform Sam Patch: catchy pop songs over standard rock’n’roll chords. 

But Sam Patch often takes a more esoteric bent, with sci-fi synths slowly modulating over pulsing 4/4 rhythms on acoustic and bass guitar, while drummer Jeremy Gara syncopates underneath: it all answers the never-posed question about what a collaboration between Tom Petty and Stereolab might sound like. Kingsbury’s choice of synth sounds is gloriously kaleidoscopic, and he scores points with this reviewer for repurposing the sound of Rough Trade’s “Crimes of Passion” here on “Listening.” Basia Bulat plays bass and provides backing vocals, facilitating Kingsbury’s taste for rich harmonies. Like many Guelph indie rock kids of the ’90s—such as his peer Jim Guthrie—Kingsbury held Chicago’s avant-rock scene of that time in high regard, and so here he seeks out John McEntire and Doug McCombs of Tortoise for assistance on two tracks. 

Kingsbury is not a mumbling sideman who finally musters enough courage to step to centre stage: he was fronting his own band (featuring Richard Reed Parry) back in 2002 when he was first spotted by Win Butler, and here he proves to be an engaging vocalist, particularly on the sombre closing track, “Up All Night.” 

There’s a new Arcade Fire record expected this spring, which is naturally going to overshadow Kingsbury’s long-overdue debut. Comparisons are inevitable, and so it boils down to this: Sam Patch has every bit the melodic and textural strength of Arcade Fire, without ever sounding claustrophobic and minus the tense dramatics (with the exception of the fuzzed-out rocker “Listening,” which provides the sole hint of menace here; meanwhile, “Never Meant No Harm” nods to the Caribbean rhythms of Reflektor). Tim Kingsbury has always been the most underrated, invisible member of Arcade Fire; that perception ends right now. And with eight songs clocking in at 35 minutes, Sam Patch leaves us wanting more—much more.

Stream: “100 Decibels,” “St. Sebastian,” “Listening”

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