It must be a joy to collaborate with Sam Evian. Every song on Time to Melt, his third full-length, breathes with a blissed-out open-mindedness, as though nothing is off-limits. If a rusty saxophone wail or loungey jazz arrangement rounds the corner, it’s not surprising, a testament to Evian’s ability to seamlessly blend genres. But rather than an omnium-gatherum of influences, Time to Melt manages to remain focused and spacious.
What ties everything together is an almost nauseatingly woozy production, at times sounding like his studio is underwater, if not idling in that dreamy limbo between asleep and awake. Similarly, Evian’s guitar is perpetually between pitches—Nile Rodgers meets Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine)—but compressed into a squashy box shape. Time to Melt is the first record that aligns the Brooklyn native with solo indie elites such as Sufjan Stevens and Beck, those multi-instrumentalists whose work is unclassifiable yet instantly recognizable and begets collaboration.
I was introduced to Sam Evian with the pink-hued emo-pop of “Need You“, a 2017 single following his debut album a year prior. It sat within a playlist featuring the usual suspects—Alex G, Jay Som, Big Thief. At the time, Evian was living in Brooklyn, and while his music was warm and enjoyable, it wasn’t visible above his peers. Since then, Sam and his partner have absconded from the bustle and glitz of the metrosexual hipster capital to find their little corner of the world, in the drizzly Catskills of Upstate New York. The move replaces downtown franticness with nature’s slow hum, allowing Evian to play with a plethora of idiosyncratic instruments—theremin, vibraphone, clavinet—and reflect on his country and the pandemic from a peaceful distance, at his own pace.
“Living in America we tell ourselves almost anything but truth,” he sings over a shuffling groove and rich brass coupling on “Knock Knock”. The song holds up a cracked mirror to the notion of American exceptionalism while praising those all-American folks that “get by despite their weakness”. In the same vein, the opener “Freezee Pops” takes on police brutality amidst a wash of lush strings: “You got rights / But they’re keeping you through the night.” These aren’t unprecedented theses, but after a year in which we saw the murder of George Floyd by police, the storming of the Capitol by asinine thugs, and an appallingly mismanaged pandemic, the only natural path to catharsis is by channeling rage into art.
Evian reviews things closer to home, too. The album’s most accessible entry is “Easy to Love”, a White Album-inspired romp of fizzy guitars, a jovial brass section, and lyrics that Paul McCartney himself would approve. “You make it so easy just to love you / I’m sitting in the garden watching birds fly / These are happy days / My friends are crunching numbers in the city / But I ran away.” This is Evian soaking up the simple pleasures of life outside the city.
The album’s masterstroke is the title track: “Sometimes I wish I wasn’t born / Floating there forevermore / It’s time to melt away. It could be read as Evian’s pre-Catskills realization: it’s time to melt away from the city and surrender to gooey indolence—in other words, bird-watching in his garden, walking his rescue dog Jan along the Ashokan Reservoir. The instrumental evokes a directionless drive through neon-lit streets, as though driving around trying to come to terms with this impending life change. A wobbly, watery guitar traces the undulating road, while a tripped-out synth lead occupies the thought-worm that can only be silenced by upstate sequestration.
The final track, “Around It Goes”, mutates the “Dream Free” melody as dreamy guitars swoon and a reverb-drenched saxophone hollers in the distance. Evian introduces audio clips sent in by fans during lockdown—shout-outs to loved ones, anecdotes related to music. They add to the relaxed, collaborative atmosphere of the record, as though his fans are sat around the studio while he tinkers with squeaky synths and drum loops.
At its best, Time to Melt is a promising collection of seductive post-indie grooves. At its worst, it’s a goldmine of vlog-ready background music to soundtrack a West London influencer’s Bali sojourn. Either way, this is but a checkpoint in Sam Evian’s career, a coalescence of several years’ experimentation that he will undoubtedly proceed far from with his next release. But if his sound does find its apex here, maybe that’s fine, too. This record was about the process, after all. And as Evian intones on “Lonely Days”, “Life’s a blur / Take it in easy.”