Sunday, April 13, 2014

Death of Samantha. If Memory Serves Us Well.

Death of Samantha.  If Memory Serves Us Well.
Valentine Records, 2013.

During the 1980s, Death of Samantha put out three albums, an EP, and a few singles.  I was sort of here (new in town just after they formed), but not plugged into the local music scene, so I pretty much missed them the first time around.  That’s a shame, because they were, and still are, a great band.  Underground, perhaps indie, is what they were tagged, some hybrid of punk, avant-garde, and what-all, with influences ranging from all the Cleveland/Akron greats of the previous decade, plus other stuff  (do I occasionally hear R.E.M., Stooges, and maybe some Rolling Stones in here?).  Influential beyond their limited exposure, they’ve received accolades from Thurston Moore, Robert Pollard, Mark Lanegan, and other ne’er do wells.  They packed it in around 1990, the members joining other bands such as Guided by Voices and Cobra Verde.  John Petkovic is all official now, a writer for the Plain Dealer, but there was a time when he was a raucous, raving frontman for a band that deserved a wider audience and a bigger paycheck.   

This album reunites the original group, reprising 18 of their original songs and doing a damned fine job of it.  These tracks are from a 2011 rehearsal prior to a reunion concert.  One other reviewer asked why they didn’t just record the concert, but I don’t mind a bit  While I gather that their concerts were spectacular festivals, I frankly prefer to listen to studio albums, which have a longer listening lifespan than concert albums.  Apparently the original albums are slated for re-release, along with a planned album of new songs.

The songs are strong, far stronger than one might expect from a regional band.  Still loud and snotty in attitude, but with significant musical abilities (probably much better than in the 80s), they move through these songs like old friends at a comfortable party.  Nearly every tune is uptempo, with excellent hooks, interesting lyrics, and a driving punk rhythm that never outstays its welcome.  The songs are eclectic (we like that term at Hiram), displaying a variety of influences and styles without imitating, while still sounding like a consistent whole.  Vocals are generally slightly out of tune, part singing, part yelling, which is appropriate to the genre.  The guitars are great.  Some of these could and should have been hits back in the 80s, but for a major label contract.  Ah, well, the life of a band can never be predicted, only lamented.  

I recommend the album highly (I’ve got the CD, but apparently you can get a fancy vinyl package if you prefer), for its high energy, consistency of quality, and rockin’ good time.  Watch for future releases and re-releases.

Personnel:  Doug Gillard (guitar, vocals), David James (bass guitar, vocals), Steve-O (drums), John Petkovic (vocals, guitar, clarinet).
Tracks:  Coca Cola and Licorice, Bed of Fire, Now It’s Your Turn (To Be a Martyr), Conviction, Couldn’t Forget ‘bout That (One Item), Savior City, Good Friday (take two edit), Rosenberg Summer, Sexual Dreaming, Blood and Shaving Cream, Geisha Girl, Monkey Face, Simple as That, Yellow Fever, Turquoise Hand, Harlequin Tragedy, Amphetamine, Blood Creek.

The Grand Wazoo

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