Jon Samuel: First Transmission
Wintersleep’s keyboardist and guitar player, Jon Samuel, has made his first transmission as a solo artist, the appropriately titled First Transmission. The album features a variety of genres from soft folk to pop and even adds a little rock into it, but the songs are in an order that allows them to blend so seamlessly that on first listen, you barely notice the progression. After the first few songs I assumed it was a soft pop/folk album, the middle gets a little edge with some heavier guitar, and it finishes on a pop note.
There seems to be a space theme to the album. Not only is the album called First Transmission, there is a track of the same name and the third-to-last song is called “End Transmission” (puzzling, but I think it was placed there to merge with the other songs rather than for the title to make sense.) There are lyrics about traveling on a rocket ship, floating in pitch black, roaming in the dark, and dancing in an asteroid field. Perhaps the space travel idea is connected to the travel between genres and the weightless, floating feelings of powerlessness in life. I’m no rocket scientist, but when Samuel sings “I want to hold on to a rocket ship as it’s launched into space. It wouldn’t melt my face, no it wouldn’t melt my face,” I’m not sure he has an accurate idea of space travel. Still, the rest of his songwriting works well.
Samuel’s voice is perplexing. I dislike it on some songs, yet I find it charming and unique on others. The slightly higher pitch he uses on the first few songs don’t do much for his voice, but when he goes lower on “Darkwood” it sounds much better. “Love” is a pleasant song with string-like sounds (I can’t tell whether it is real strings or a keyboard effect) but the almost-falsetto vocals do little for me. “Relic” has to be one of my favorite songs on the album, but I dislike the first half. His vocals start off high and the beginning is soft, but midway through it gains an edge with harder guitars and shimmery cymbals. This harder sound continues for the next couple songs, “Follow the Leader” and “NADA.” Following that, “Crater” and “Darkwood” soften a bit, “End Transmission” (a reprise of “First Transmission”) is a slower, acoustic version of the first track, then “The Man Who Fell to Earth” and “Maelstrom Lyric” go for a pop sound. Rah Rah’s Erin Passmore provides backing vocals on “Darkwood” and “Maelstrom Lyric” but I find that her mumbly delivery of the much-repeated line “the artificial light” on the latter song is grating. Otherwise, she’s a lovely addition to the songs.
MP3: Jon Samuel “Darkwood”