Johanna Samuels: Double Bind

[21 July 2014]

By Zachary Houle

Stark and Terrifying

New York artist Johanna Samuels has a knack for the overtly domestic violent imagery on her debut album Double Bind. On song “Please Say Something Good”, she warbles, “I dreamed I had daughter / She asked me how the breaking’s done / And I said / Watch the brother hit the sister / Now watch the mother slap the son.” I can only wonder what such bleak imagery might come from the mouth of a male figure, but, as it stands, Double Bind is stark and terrifying. At times reminiscent of the ‘70s singer-songwriter songbook of Laura Nyro, Double Bind is an affecting listen, even at its poppiest (“For You to Do”) and even when there’s a bare rendition of the title track in almost a cappella format. Overall, though, Double Bind is a gratifying listen that harkens back to the best of the singer-songwriter format of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Throughout the course of its 10 songs, clocking in at 35 minutes, Double Bind is harrowing and with a black disposition. Parts of it remind me of Phil Spector-influenced recordings (“Real Tragedies”) with a hint of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper sprinkled throughout the record. However, there’s also an overriding sense of the giddily infectiousness in songs such as “From Above You” and “Your Door”. There’s certainly a dark and brooding quality to this album beyond what opening single “For You to Do” might suggest. And that also means that there’s a certain depth and maturity to these songs that makes them such a stimulating listen. The songs here are top drawer, the album hangs together as a whole, and it makes you wonder what else this artist is capable of. Still, what we get with Double Bind is a pretty awesome account and makes you eager to hear what else Johanna Samuels might have up her sleeve.

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