New York band prove themselves worthy Malkmus-worshipping balladeers, if only they’d ditch the feedback.
"Nothing is sacred/nothing gets you high anymore", Noah Chernin sings on "Company Dance," the standout track on Sam Champion's debut Slow Rewind. The album's press release reports that "Company Dance" was the only song written by Sam Champion the band, while Chernin wrote the others on his own. The track stands out because it is a perfect showcase of what the band is capable of musically, but also highlights their lyrical shortcomings. The song pops out immediately, perhaps a bit too reliant on The Velvet Underground to be truly excellent, but a pretty rockin' cut at that. The lyrics, however, are boring and half-assed (as demonstrated by my leading quote).
Sam Champion is a band of too-cool New Yorkers with their first shot at an album. Slow Rewind is a recycled-pop amalgam of indie, early-'90s throwback, and alt-country. Sam Champion desperately want to be Pavement (who doesn't?): they want to capture that loose, sloppy, witty sound. But really, this isn't what suits them. There is some good stuff here, but the band thrives with more structure than they think they need.
The album opens with "Slow Rewind," a song that comes on strong but fades quickly. "I am aggressively lazy," Chernin sings in one of his many attempts to be irreverent and clever, but coming off a little lame. Most of Sam Champion's lyrics are college freshman stoner-speak, peppered with a vague, metaphorical darkness. "TV Fever" tries to blow your eardrums Dinosaur, Jr. style, but it ends up just sounding too slow, too messy, and just not right. "You Can't See the Stars in This Town" and "Texas Song," however, are good alt-country numbers, and it seems Sam Champion has quite a knack for catchy, anthem-style ballads. There's always a place for these, but too many slow numbers can make for dangerously sleepy indie rock.
"It's Getting Late" is the all-around best song on the album, not as snappy and noticeable as "Company Dance" (but also lacking such obvious lyrical banality). It starts with a somber, warbling guitar and continues into a building, melodic chorus, an admirable Pavement sound-alike with a twinge of The Promise Ring. Sam Champion can actually be compared quite closely to that now-defunct college-rock band, and they share the problem that led to The Promise Ring's end: they write damn good indie ballads, but they write too many. If Sam Champion could capture more of the intensity of The Promise Ring's early work (they've got it in "Company Dance"), they would surely be a more put-together band.
As the final song, "Too Broke," proves, the band wishes it were something that it's not. Big guitars thrash and crumble over insipid lyrics: "I'm too broke to get drunk." Feedback may agree with Sam Champion's heroes, but it doesn't work for them. Do yourself a favor and stop at track nine; this band is young, cocky, and all over the place. But if Chernin and his band mates can come together in favor of a controlled sound, they'll do more than just grasp at indie rock's coattails. Hell, maybe they'll even make enough money to get drunk.