The streaming era has opened up the floodgates for people looking to make music, but the chief indicator of breaking through is still sheer quality; Sam Gellaitry has that rare quality.
Writing twice about Sam Gellaitry for PopMatters’ end-of-year coverage in 2015, I, correct at the time, referred to the now-20-year-old Scottish producer as trafficking in the Soundcloud trap genre. And, while this is still where he draws from a smattering of influences from and, as one of the premier purveyors of the sound, influences it back, the progression he’s shown since breaking out in 2015 with the Short Stories EP is one befitting an artist who has grown up musically in the critical eye. Escapism III, the third in this titular series for uber-cool XL Recordings, settles into a consistency that should elevate him for years to come.
The EP opens up with "Jungle Waters" and that song, in turn, opens with a celestial string section that is reminiscent of the score of the only good Charlie and the Chocolate Factory film adaptation before stopping for a brief respite of thumping bass a la "LONG DISTANCE", the marquee track from Escapism I and probably the trilogy as a whole. But it’s in the prolonged strings that Gellaitry shows his first bout of progression: previous genteel moments on his records were masked in either cloudy effects or simply muted, while here, the instruments in his expanded arsenal get the star treatment. That a moment of trap snuck in indicates either a reliance on past tropes or he’s seeing where the genre can go from its present state; at his young age and relatively limited catalog, time is the truest indicator here.
One new wrinkle to Gellaitry’s longer-form releases is the continuity between tracks. The opener, by way of a mysterious synth, seamlessly flows into its follow-up, "Ceremony" and so on throughout the five tracks of the EP. Really, though, that fact is the only notable one about "Ceremony", a run-of-the-mill demo by its sound, acting as a holdover period for the immediate analysis of "Jungle Waters"’ new direction while setting up the impressive closing trilogy.
"Midnight Racer" begins the three with a wistful aspirationalism last seen done so well by Gellaitry himself on his best track, "Childhood". This song, however, seems to combine the best of that song with the aforementioned "LONG DISTANCE" by way of a highly edited vocal sample shifting pitch and evoking boundless adrenaline at opportune times before, like the best of rushes, fleeting into the background for a lengthy contemplative stretch. It’s indicative of the highs of an act like Coyote Kisses, but with the electronic flourishes of a true auteur.
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"Acres" and "Ever After", as follow-ups, expand his reach. The former employs a rare acoustic guitar before giving way to atmospheric Eastern influences; structurally, it is impressive in its awareness to let instruments breathe and to give each its spotlight while finding the proper moments to bring multiple ones together. "Ever After", following suit, takes the longest of the five tracks to find its footing, but once it does so, it brings a early 2000s video game flute to the table that should evoke warm nostalgia. It’s a fitting end to an EP that runs the gamut of positive emotions and finds one of the most euphoric producers out showing why he’s one of the Soundcloud era stars.
In my previous write-ups on Gellaitry, I noted how excited I was to contemplate other artists tackling his work. It’s still undoubtedly one of those rational musical dreams, but after hearing the conclusion to the Escapism trilogy, there is no doubt that he can carve out a legacy without any collaborative assistance. The streaming era has opened up the floodgates for people looking to make music, producers especially, but the chief indicator of breaking through is still sheer quality; Sam Gellaitry has proven yet again that he has it in rare quantity.