Samiyam Sam Baker’s Album Review

Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A mutated take on the funkier end of electro from the FlyLo collaborator.

Chris Power 2011

Samiyam, aka Sam Baker, is a name that’s become familiar over the last few years to anyone following the growth of post-Dilla hip hop and its best known proponent, Flying Lotus. The duo have recorded as FlyAmSam and a grab-bag of Samiyam beats (Rap Beats Vol. 1) was the first ever release on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label, now home to the Michigan producer’s first album proper.

Sam Baker’s Album operates within recognisable Brainfeeder territory: instrumental tracks with sound so compressed you feel like you just got off a long-haul flight without performing the Valsalva manoeuvre; unquantized, misshapen beats, with an analogue haze hanging over it all like smog (although Baker actually works digitally, favouring the Roland SP-303). But within these familiar parameters Baker successfully applies his creativity to making funk-derived sample-based hip hop sound fresh. And rather than adopting the expansive ‘space opera’ style of Flying Lotus to do so, Baker resembles a master miniaturist. None of this album’s playful, detailed tracks hit four minutes, and nearly half of them don’t last two.

At the heart of Samiyam’s sound lies a mutated take on the funkier end of electro. Heavy basslines, like Pressure’s corpulent blurt, slowly uncoil beneath bone-dry drums and jazz-inflected keys. The head-banger boom-bap of Wonton Special rumbles beneath cheesy synth stabs, resulting in the improbable micro-genre of darkside jazz-funk. My Buddy, driven by a snare dry as a biscuit tin and one euphorically ascending bassline, is Boards of Canada drenched in Sunny D. Where Am I and Bedtime are more meditative, taking the familiar blissful ingredients of funk soul (vocal sighs, chimes) and warping them into woozily disorientating patterns.

Frosting Packets is a jazzier take on the seething organ tones driving Return, the lead track from Samiyam’s 2008 EP on Hyperdub, and while the continuity between his older productions and these is clear, Baker now seems to be exploring his sound with a greater freedom. That’s most evident on opening track Escape, which starts off sounding like an Oran ‘Juice’ Jones backing track before disintegrating and rebuilding itself as a muscular, discordant roller with as much dubstep about it as hip hop. The only complaint that can be made – that several of the shorter tracks here could have been developed further, rather than left to merely loop and fade – isn’t really a complaint at all, but rather anticipation for what this inventive producer will do next.

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