For some reason unbeknownst to me, I always end up really liking bands that worship at the altar of Stephen Malkmus and Pavement, which is odd because I’m not really a fan. It’s happened with several bands in the past few years and the latest in line is Brooklyn’s Sam Champion, named after one of that city’s local weathermen. There are certainly similarities that can be heard in the swampy guitars and raw vocals, but there’s far more to this band on the brink of brilliance than an indie-rock name drop. Sam Champion’s debut album, three years in the waiting since the formation of the band, is called Slow Rewind, an apt description for an album with a sound that both honors its past and takes it easy.
New Adventures in Hi-Fi was R.E.M.’s attempt to have a slow alt-country feel, and even though they are from the South, they couldn’t capture the sound half as well as do the Yankees from the North, Sam Champion. Twangy guitars, barroom pianos and an aching lead vocal all contribute to the masterful debut that is Slow Rewind. Every song on the album is a keeper and all resonate with an equal combination of pop sheen, boozy debauchery and a loose yet polished alt-country style that one wouldn’t think came out of Brooklyn.
The lead off title track says it all when singer / guitarist Noah Chernin drawls “I am aggressively lazy / We like it slow and so it goes.” In other words, Sam Champion bring the rock without having to redline the RPM’s. The guitars are still swirly and muddy despite the laid-back attitude. The Neil Young-esqueness of “Sally” makes it one of the standouts on the album, interweaved with wailing guitar. “Texas” and “You Can’t See the Stars in This Town” could give Whiskeytown and the Old 97’s runs for their money. “All of Our Tomorrows” and “Too Broke” are so Jim James sounding that you might question which band came first.
Sometimes we all long for something new and innovative. For instance, once you’ve heard one Enya album, you’ve pretty much heard them all, right? Well, that hasn’t stopped her most recent album from selling like gangbusters. Why? Because other times we merely want to revel in that which we find familiar and comforting. Slow Rewind is like a love letter sent to Neil Young and cc’d to lo-fi crunchsters Pavement and Sebadoh. I suppose this means I’ll have to give Pavement one more try.