The great thing about music is just when you think you’ve heard it all and nothing can make you feel the same depth of passion you did during your adolescence something arrives to prove you wrong. Sam Gendel’s ‘4444’ might have flown largely under the radar if you’re currently whiling away the Yuletide skimming through ‘best of 2017’ lists and that’s a real shame.
Is anyone else sick of the increasing dominance of the now ubiquitous Spotify playlist? This year a music journalist for The Guardian wrote that if you’re a musician that is not on one ‘you might as well not exist‘. Really?!!! Playlists certainly have their place. We at TSOFD also compile YouTube ones so you can stay abreast of new music. But this is with a view to delving deeper and giving an artist more time if you find something you like.
What we like about Sam Gendel is this is an artist appealing to the listener’s concentration span. On Gendel’s Bandcamp page for ‘4444’ he even dishes out advice on how to listen to the album. Whilst we don’t begrudge an artist grabbing the opportunity of placement on an influential playlist if it helps their career – we think it a shame if music lovers only hear the work of such high caliber artists such as Gendel in bite sized chunks.
With ‘Children of Earth’ immediately there’s a live feel to what you’re hearing with the instruments announcing their presence before a silky groove takes hold. Given Gendel’s dismissive stance regarding politics as a whole (he refers to politics as ‘boring‘) you’d be for forgiven for thinking he’s being disingenuous after hearing the lyrics on this first track and indeed across the album. This sounds like a person who very much has something to say. However, perhaps the point is Gendel sees politics as a sideshow. A tedious distraction – and something that ironically often serves to decrease our awareness rather than increase it.
‘Promise Is’ urges you to ‘stop for a moment and consider what I’m saying’. The guitar does a great job in convincing one to do so, given its hypnotic quality. Whilst Gendel considers himself a saxophonist primarily, in terms of it being his number one instrument, the guitar opens up fascinating avenues for him to explore and he does indeed have a very distinctive style which works to great effect on this track. Whilst musically and structurally markedly different, the vibe of this LP conjures up Elliott Smith to this listener somehow, something that occurs to me throughout the album. Perhaps it’s the warped feel to the recordings – their breathiness and wispiness and all-enveloping sense of melancholy.
‘Less But Better’ hears the groove heightened and allows us to better gauge again where the ‘outsider jazz’ tag comes from. It’s interesting how this track suddenly opens up, before sweeping and swooping back to the fold. Rhythmically I’m reminded of Fela Kuti. Also, perhaps it’s the effect of the LA sunshine being absorbed into the notes, but it feels like a rich tradition of Los Angeles musicianship infuses this record and there’s something very 70s about it all without it sounding like mimicry.
The same is true of ‘Lof’ though it’s a softer approach. ‘My love is true’ might sound like a schmaltzy refrain if devoid of context – but it sits perfectly nestled within the musical backdrop. Sincerity flows in the delivery and the natural feel of this track makes it a pure auditory pleasure. Some nimble jazzy soloing seals the deal. There’s some lovely use of space in the outro that makes the most of the reverb-laden instrumentation and vocals.
‘Passenger’ provides a nice answer to any pop lover questioning the idea of listening to something deemed jazz. This is a catchy number when the chorus hits. Regarding the arrangement, the manner in which the drums roll and shuffle along is a joy, cleverly filling the gaps when and where appropriate and never overplaying.
‘No Place For This’ provides another opportunity for pensive reflection and melodious melancholy. There’s a really endearing softly softly approach to this song but it’s in no way brittle or thin sounding – the sense of depth remains. There’s a psychedelic quality to the entire record but it really takes hold here. Don’t be expecting something hastily thrown into the arrangement to make it so – it’s all about structure and the peaks and troughs. This might not be the most psychedelic record of the year but it’s the most natural sounding psychedelic record if that makes any sense.
A certain slickness returns with ‘DAVE’. The groove never really leaves you with this LP. The low pitch shift on the vocal reminds you you’re not just listening to a wonderfully talented up and coming songwriter and musician in the form of Gendel but that you’re also experiencing a feat in engineering and mixing courtesy of Chris Sorem. It’s easy to underestimate that side of this record given the quality of the playing but the production is also sublime.
‘Crossroads’ comes across as similar to ‘Passenger’ in the sense the jazziness gives way to a catchy and easily identifiable vocal hook. The way the parts bounce off each other conjures up a more stripped back D’Angelo if any readers are seeking a reference point or, perhaps more accurately, a clumsy comparison.
‘CHOICES’ is one of my favourite numbers. The way the rhythm guitar takes hold across the stereo field is a delight and the vocal line is perfectly pitched. In fact, it’s brought me to the conclusion I don’t want to write anything else about this album. I’m just going to sit back and listen as this song bleeds into yet another standout track, the finale ‘Portrait Orchid Gun’ which now becomes the intro if you choose to listen to the record backwards as Sam Gendel advises. Which is just what I’m going to do: stop and listen. I have a feeling he’d approve.
‘4444’ is out now on Terrible Records.