He might not have quite the same outsized sonic personality as darkly somber stoner Gaslamp Killer, wigged-out space cadet Ras G, or psych-jazz auteur Flying Lotus, but Samiyam has more than proved his credentials as a member of the loose-knit Brainfeeder club. His last full-length, Sam Baker’s Album, was full of loping, head-nod loops rooted in traditionalism but constructed with new toys, boom-bap put through a blunted, modernist filter.
The fact that the followup, Wish You Were Here, is being released on Stones Throw affiliate Leaving Records rather than Fly Lo’s reliable stable is somewhat fitting. From the first sweeping strings of “Pandas”, Wish You Were Here feels even more rooted in hip-hop, particularly the kind generally favored over at Samiyam’s new home. Much of it is far less synth heavy, constructed from samples sourced from dusty basement record collections of psych, jazz and soul.
The more hip-hop heavy vibe is even more pronounced given that, unlike Sam Baker’s Album, Wish You Were Here contains actual rap tracks; three to be precise, two of which feature Sam himself as the master of ceremonies, (Evidence and Alchemist also stop by to lace the beats too). On “Pandas” in particular Samiyam actually makes you wish he would rap more, unusual for a beat-maker making his on-mic debut. He has a sly wit and a conversational style; he’s “auspicious while you wash dishes”, all while “girls blow [him] soft kisses while dreaming of something more explicit”. He manages a fair few quotables in the tracks short couple of minutes.
If the album’s first few songs make Wish You Were Here feel like a step back in to classicism, though, it’s a little misleading. Right around the watery, narcotic thump of “Dreams (Green Feelings)”, Wish You Were Here starts tugging at the seams keeping it tightly woven and things go a little off the deep end. Disembodied vocals hymn, bass bubbles and drums knock seemingly in a conscious effort to remind listeners that even if this guy is making hip-hop, he’s coming from a realm that some of the most forward thinking electronic music out there calls home. It’s still accessible and indebted even to the golden age shuffle that remains hip-hop’s very core sound, but Samiyam generously seasons his beats with textures and sonics that are all his own.
Given its stylistic variety, it’s something of a surprise that Wish You Were Here feels so much more like an album than what one might call a beat tape. No matter how different they sound, all of the instrumentals share a meditative quality. “This L” and “On A Bad Day” are heavy on the distorted bass and crawl along with a loose swagger, but they feel right at home next to interludes like the gentle, serenely cinematic “Italy” and the drugged out off-time drums and light jazz keys of “Stuff”. Best of all might be the brief, supremely minimal “Wooden Backhand” and “Snakes On The Moon”, which couple percussive yet barely there rhythm with mysterious, lilting, lightly chopped up melodies.
It’s the thoughtful, zen approach to listening that Wish You Were Here encourages that binds the album together, along with a lightness of touch and effervescence fitting of its fantastic cover art. That these two seemingly opposing qualities don’t ultimately end up at odds is its greatest achievement, and what make it one of the best albums of the year to simply kick back, roll up and ponder to.
4.5 out of 5
You can buy Wish You Where Here on Amazon.