[6 December 2007]
While the greater majority of contemporary musical artists have undoubtedly embraced the technical and aesthetic benefits of all things digital, the remnants of analog and low fidelity has continued to thrive in much of today’s indie rock. Despite the fact that the application of this kind of production is usually a matter of the artist’s financial limitations, many lo-fi users merely appreciate the inexpensive cassette recorders for the sincerity it creates. Maintaining all the mechanical flaws, background noise, and distortion is often felt to be the perfect means to break the transparency of the music, and bring the listener closer to something genuine.
Following the lead of numerous raw recorders such as Elliot Smith, Iron and Wine, and Neutral Milk Hotel is The State of Samuel. Coming all the way from Stockholm, this quartet of four-track dependents is the brainchild of Samuel Petersson. Although the native Swede has his name attributed to an immense number of compilations, personal tapes, and EPs, the young singer/songwriter’s official releases have been regulated to his 2003 debut Mutiny on Mercury, and his latest effort, this year’s Here Come the Floods.
Co-released under Humblebee Recordings and Total Gaylord Records, Here Come the Floods offers up the kind of quirky pop vignettes someone like Daniel Johnston could whole-heartily appreciate. Their stripped-down conditions evoke the same kind of naiveté and dignity. However, much like Johnston, Petersson does not sustain his work through substance, but in his own hit-or-miss ability to be eccentric and charming. With only a single song breaking the three-minute mark (the album’s 12-track total clocks in at a meager 28 minutes) Here Come the Floods is a collection of unfleshed fragments that just seem to lack that certain level of finesse that comes with getting the most out of so little.
Throughout the record, Petersson and his band utilize an assortment of bright melodies and atypical arrangements. And while his seemingly forced shtick has its moments even at their best sing-a-long pleasantness, not even the best lo-fi instrumentation can dull the impact of Petersson’s ungodly vocal delivery. As if he were pretending his voice had no bearing on the quality of his overall work, Petersson sounds like someone in desperate need of a decongestant. Consciously taking his untrained warble to unnecessary nasal levels, Petersson’s singing throughout the album is nothing more than a distraction from what would otherwise be a collection of half-decent pop songs.
Of course not every song is completely unlistenable. A few exceptions to the rule include “The Unholy Ghost” and “Suburbs On the Run”; two songs where Petersson takes himself back a few notches and allows the music to come to the forefront. At his best Petersson even manages to get away with something like “Square Roots”. With a bass line melody undercutting its rough-edged acoustic strumming, Petersson foregoes any lyrical chorus with an appropriate “ba ba ba” cheering exuberance.
While not every piece is on Here Come the Floods is a nugget of lo-fi gold worthy of repeat plays the concise gems are there to sift through. If anything the album is a testament to the fact that even with a minimal amount of equipment, anyone can make a record, even it struggles to standout.