Album Review Sam Evian, Premium (2016, Saddle Creek); Off With Their Heads, Bad Cop / Bad Cop tonight…
by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com
From the label’s earliest days, there have been those who have sworn there’s a “Saddle Creek sound” that iconically identifies every act on the roster. And, of course, they’ve always been wrong. There is no sonic common denominator that linked Bright Eyes with Cursive with The Faint, nor with late-comers like Ladyfinger, Rilo Kiley or Son Ambulance, and certainly not with latter-day acts starting as far back as Tokyo Police Club through the list of artists you may already have forgotten, like Rural Alberta Advantage and Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson.
If there was a common thread among Creek artists, one could point toward solid song-writing and an uncompromising approach to the music that seemed genuine and unselfish. No one can accuse a Saddle Creek act of trying to write a hit song to benefit themselves or the label. Just didn’t happen (as far as I know). Instead, acts were — and are — free to make their own decisions based on the music they want to make, for better or worse, and commerce be damned.
Maybe that same philosophy drives the label’s roster decisions. After all, how does an act like Sam Evian fit into Saddle Creek’s history of signings? What qualities did the staff hear that made them decide, “We need to sign this guy; he belongs on Saddle Creek Records”? It certainly wasn’t a commerce-driven decision. I can’t imagine anyone thought, “Sam Evian’s gonna make this label a fortune.” It’s a head-scratcher.
So no, after listening to Premium for the past few weeks, the new album by Sam Evian, I can’t figure out why the label signed them. But then again, who would have thought that recent roster additions Big Thief and Hop Along were natural Saddle Creek bands? None have ties with Nebraska or sound like anyone else on the label.
Sam Evian’s music has a casual pop sound, an easy-going, loping meter augmented by glowing guitar tones, lilting synths and Sam Owens’ (the real Sam Evian) cooing voice that add up to the perfect soundtrack for walking barefoot along a West Coast beach at sunset. Call it Indie Yacht Rock; these tracks would sound right at home next to ’70s FM soft rock heroes Boz Scaggs, Player, Stephen Bishop, 10 cc and Bertie Higgins.
There are modern touch-stones as well. I was reminded of laid-back Kurt Vile and Foxygen. Highlights include the screaming sax solo on “Dark Love,” the 10 cc-sh “I Need a Man” and opening track and natural first single “Sleep Easy.” The whole album is warm and pretty and easy to take in, but unlike some of the more substantial Saddle Creek releases over the years, that good feeling is rather fleeting. Like a walk on the beach, the golden moment is lost after the sun goes down. This isn’t life-changing music, but it’s fun.
How does the album fit into the Creek catalogue? For those who’ve come to expect a quality product from the Saddle Creek imprint release-after-release, they won’t be disappointed. And maybe that’s the only requirement that matters. Premium comes out Sept. 30.
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I felt as if I had to write something about Saddle Creek after a post on Facebook a few days ago about tonight’s Off With Their Heads show at Lookout Lounge suggested I only write about O’Leaver’s and Saddle Creek bands. Pshaw… (though, yeah, I do write a lot about Saddle Creek and O’Leaver’s…).
Minneapolis punk band Off With Their Heads records for Epitaph. They’ve toured with Bad Religion and Dropkick Murphys, among others. Openers include West Coast act Bad Cop / Bad Cop (Fat Wreck Chords), Omaha hardcore act Stronghold and The Ridgways. $15, 8 p.m.
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Quick Note: That big (but actually quite small) show I mentioned last week that I didn’t get to announce will be announced tomorrow at noon… probably.
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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2016 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.