. issue II : viii .
. artist : sam page .
. album : breach .
. year : 2013 .
. label: n/a .
. grade : b plus .
I first heard of Sam Page because of, well…because of Sam Page. Like many of the artists I hope to feature in these articles, Sam took the time to track me down on the Internet and politely suggested that his new batch of self-recorded, self-produced, and self-released songs might find a home on my radio show. There’s a lot of ‘self’ going on here, but it is a fine thing: Page has a charming self and it shines through in this solid collection of eminently listenable compositions. Breach is quite accurately self-described as ‘guitar-driven pop/rock,’ an appellation that could describe…almost anything recorded in the last 1,000 years or so, although Sam seems to take a great many of his cues from the greats of the 80’s and 90’s.
“Songs such as ‘Hold On’ and ‘Hello’ feature catchy vocal melodies that would have felt at home on a Dinosaur Jr. album and sparse, smart arrangements reminiscent of The Pixies. ‘Take it Easy’ rocks with the hummable intensity of The Meat Puppets or early Husker Dü, albeit with more polish and fewer marbles-in-the-mouth. This isn’t a derivative effort by any means, but some of the influences are immediately recognizable.”
Sam does all the vocals, guitars and the bass himself (except for the bass on “Hello,” which was contributed by Laura Cormack), and although the recordings come from a pair of Shure microphones set up in his guest bedroom, the tones and the mix fit the material perfectly. The resultant mastering by Jim Moreland (who also produced the drum tracks) is warm, with a full-bodied sound, and without the fatigue-inducing ‘brickwall’ limiting so often heard on modern home recording.
Tracks like “Now I Know” and “Tumbleweed in the Grand Scheme” are nicely fleshed out with intelligently placed layers of acoustic and electric guitar. The stereo spacing provides a clean delivery system for the addictive hooks and yields a sonic depth, texture and clarity, and Page’s thoughtful though straightforward songs deliver their energetic messages without clutter or distraction.
The first songs that I heard were pre-release demos of “I Don’t Want To Think About Her Anymore” and “Tumbleweed” and my first impression, as such things often are, was wrong. This, I thought to myself, is a precocious young kid who writes songs that have substance beyond his years and has somehow managed to avoid the youthful pitfalls of self-absorbed moping and angst-ridden narcissism. But after corresponding with Page, I realized that my initial assessment of his age was way off-base. In fact, Sam is a full-fledged adult; a father and former college professor with a Ph.D. in Philosophy! He seems to have followed the stereotypical musician’s path in reverse: he grew up, landed a respectable job, and started a family–and only then came the musical ambition. As his story goes, it wasn’t until 2010 that he took any serious interest in creating his own music. This happened, as he tells it, “… because I lost my teaching job and found myself staying home with two small kids. I spent half a year trying to figure out what the heck to do with myself before I said, ‘Hey, how about I do something with these songs…?’”
And he did do something. A contrarian of sorts from birth, (he was a breech-baby, as alluded to via pun in the album’s title), Sam recorded and released a full-length record of ten original songs while still being able to make grown-up attestations (such as “I’m not pursuing this in an irresponsible way that’s jeopardizing my family”), and that sort of statement is quite the opposite of the standard rebellious rocker trope (i.e. “Screw it! I’ll be dead before I’m thirty, but at least I’ll leave a few records and a vandalized tombstone”).
If there’s any downside to Breach, it may be that Page’s songs aren’t bleak, despairing or filled with the sort of drained and jaded nihilism that resonates with me on my finest Bad Days. Truth be told, when he sings, “This is a song about starting over / better days I’m moving toward,” I actually believe him, and when he speaks glowingly of meeting Frank Black or being followed on Twitter by The Pixies, I get a vicarious jolt of cheerful wonder that is just enough to ruin a perfectly good depression.
“If one guitarist and songwriter can be so exuberantly and contagiously well-adjusted, then perhaps (just maybe) there’s hope for the rest of us.”
That Page is considering label-shopping and has developed material for the next album is enough to make one believe that there may actually be a future for his music. It at least puts the music scene in perspective: musical careers can escape fatalism and enjoy a good time for its own sake. As Page sings in “Tumbleweed,” “In the grand scheme nothing really matters / but, if so, does the grand scheme matter?” Maintaining a careful, mature balance between life and art might not produce much in the way of torrid tales that infuse an artist with ‘cool factor’ or ‘indie cred,’ but it has allowed Page to realize his musical aspirations. Sam Page is a very impressive musician whose best work is probably yet to come. Stay tuned.