Sama Dams, “Say it” | Album Review

Say It, the newest offering from Portland’s Sama Dams dropped early this month on Friendship Fever. Packed with soaring synths, guitar hero riffs, and intricate polyrhythmic percussion, Sama Dams are back with another heady mix of sonic pastiche. While more direct than past efforts Say It still retains what Sama Dams does best; weaving unconventional pop from technically advanced compositions.

The first distinguishing factor on the follow-up to 2016’s Comfort in Doubt, is Lisa Adams’ continual presence on the mic. This is the first Sama Dams effort to feature co authorship from the band’s couple, Lisa and Sam Adams. Lyrically this material is more straightforward than past albums; the music continues to exist as an exercise in tension and relief, aptly complementing the album’s universal subject matter of fractured relationships. Throughout the ten tracks, there are earworm hooks, unexpected turns and inverted progressions, a colorful palate of synths, all kept in the sonic playing field by the impressively nuanced drumming from Chris Hermsen . Even tracks that don’t stand out on their own work to serve the album as a whole, providing the requisite breathing room between moments of confessional catharsis, the momentary calm before the next crack in the surface.

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Courtesy of Sama Dams Facebook

The album opener, “Pockets,” sets the tone both sonically and lyrically, mutating through three movements before the couplet that begins to build the thematic groundwork: “What’s the use for pockets if they’re empty? / Fill them up with things you’ll use against me.” The relatable conflict-avoidant notion of letting all the things that bother us build up instead of addressing them head-on. Where eventually the accumulated weight breaks us and the collection of criticism breaches the surface in an emotional exclamation. The record is entitled Say It, and over and over we see the “it” of the Adams’ relationship without much metaphorical masking.

“Driving By” comes out of the gate peaking with the blaring shared hook of distorted guitar and keyboard, before stripping down to a lone synth line that provides the rhythmic skeleton of the verse. The drums kick in, and little flourishes coalesce to create a quilt of melody. The initial hook returns, taking the chorus to anthemic heights. The tense pull between verse and chorus is one of the things Sama Dams does best, and here it serves to heighten the lyrical stakes.

“Down By One” begins with a simple synth pattern, requisite breathing room before the next heart-wrenching reveal of a relationship unraveled–”Don’t come, I changed all the locks / If you can’t find enough here, I’ll give you all the space to search.”

My favorite track, “Dig Ourselves a Hole,” functions like a swan on the water – simple and elegant on the surface, yet fiercely complicated beneath. Sounds enter and exit with regularity, a small symphony playing an ensemble cast to achieve the full melody. This amalgamation of sounds and song structure alone mark what Sama Dams are doing as something uniquely their own – a blend of a few genres without sounding like a cliche of any of them. The track also contains one of the most satisfying choruses on the record, “If you quit talking, we’ll figure it out,” sung over a chunky, analog synth riff that threatens to pay homage to the sound of dial-up internet.

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Courtesy of Sama Dams Facebook

“Western Love” is an earworm from the onset; an effervescent conversation between a buoyant synth and tom roll. On ‘Stake,’ Sam Adams adopts The Bends/OK Computer-era Thom Yorke vocals and over a bouncing organ, builds to a satisfyingly delicate crescendo. The album closer, “Ocean,” begins with Lisa’s vocals before Sam joins in, as if the couple are having a light conversation. Is this the reconciliation of the album’s malaise? It’s not likely with the next stanza: “I’ll cross the ocean, I’ll buy my way / But I won’t bide my time, Sitting by your fire”. The drums crack and the listener quickly slips into the groove of a delightfully crunchy guitar riff. Sama Dams sound louder than ever here, as Sam and Lisa’s voices compete to take the song to the stars. There is a jittery Annie Clark-esque guitar solo before the track closes with a string arrangement of exhaustion perhaps from both stimulus and content.

On their own, these tracks are dynamic, and seldom end where they begin. Clean and streamlined this is still the work of three accomplished musicians who flex like special effects in a blockbuster film – the intention to disguise how complicated what they are doing really is. From start to finish the lyrical content provides a vulnerable look into the Adams’ relationship and furthermore to many issues confronted in the universal relationship. By not holding back or filtering their personal tribulations, these details elevate the work to an emotional universal that will resonate deeply with many listeners for as long as we humans find ourselves in and out of love.