Samiam – ‘Stowaway’

By Katherine Allvey

Don’t call it a comeback. Call it an evolution, a rebirth, a continuation after twelve years of absence for the mostly forgotten cousins of the Gilman Street family, Samiam. After signing to a major in the nineties and touring across every inhabited continent with just about every big alt name of the era, life got in the way and, aside from the odd trickle of shows, Samiam have been very quiet since roughly 2011. It’s this tension between your passions and the reality of your daily existence which drives this album with guitarist Sean Kennerly stating its an album about “Failure for sure. Tenacity in the face of continuing failure; failure to communicate, failure to succeed, failure to find meaning. Which is weird because it’s actually kind of an uplifting album as far as Samiam goes.” This zen acceptance of the way things are, the acknowledgment of the fact that yes, much of life will be defeat but there’s a shared joy in that, is what makes ‘Stowaway’ terrific by any standard you wish to apply to it. 

Slow feedback opens ‘Lake Speed’ before the speeding Samiam car revs up into a proper shouter to remind us that, yes, Samiam have always been brilliant. One seamless Tokyo drift later and we’re into ‘Crystallize’, one of the advanced singles to signal ‘Stowaway’s arrival, and that same haunting emotion that characterises a Samiam record is still present via laser guitar solos and ethereal backing vocals. “It was all a game I never learned to play,” sings Jason Beebout, and we wonder if he’s talking about the music industry that seems to have turned its back on the stadium tour could-have-beens. The lyrics to  ‘Lights Out, Little Hustler’ read like a message in a bottle to the band’s younger selves, because there was always “something in the way” of Samiam achieving the greatness they deserved that was “so hard to find”. This is a record for either a very specific audience, or for us all – if you’ve regretted a lost chance at success, or felt a tinge deep in your chest when driving away from the lights of a city you’re pulled into, then you’re the person who will feel an ache in your ribs when you hear this album. ‘Stowaway’ would be uncomfortable listening were it not so beautifully put together.

‘Stowaway’ is almost a eulogy to the past, to an imagined better time and place. “Can’t wait for something good to happen” is the refrain dragging the nostalgic ‘Scout Knife’ into the present, but those high notes and aching guitar etching into the stomping bass elevate the song above just a lovelorn sepia exercise in nostalgia. New members Colin Brooks (drums) and Chad Darby (bass) add a layer of muscle to the Samiam sound which is needed to temper the emotion, making the band seem stronger for their hardship rather than cracking at the seams, but the long, desperate Pearl Jam guitar chords from Kennerly are the stars of the show on this album. These extended notes in ‘Natural Disasters’ create this hollow, echoing monument to times and places and friends lost, filling the arena in your mind with lighters in hands aloft. It’s the title track, ‘Stowaway’, which strikes the most literal and figurative chords though; slower and more elegant in a colossal way, it’s a touching and intimate call to the baggage we all carry within us. 

In some ways, it’s great that Samiam took a long break because they utilised their life experiences to create a record rich in metaphor, feeling and tenderness. However, it’s the harshness of their exile from the punk scene that shaped the eroded, weather-worn cliff face of their sound, and you can’t help but feel sympathy for their situation as well as admiration for their achievement on ‘Stowaway’. Judging by the beauty and longing on this album, they absolutely need to stick around and make more of this heart-rending punk rock for many years to come. 

KATE ALLVEY

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