1994: Samuel - Lives of Insects

Samuel should’ve been a contender. Their recorded body of work encompasses all of seven songs: this EP, a second seven-inch, and a split with Texas Is The Reason. Sonically, they were a rock band where the less acrobatic “post-hardcore” was expected: streamlined and no-nonsense, guitars that roared, and a vocalist more than capable of issuing bitter denunciations and offhand lyrical putdowns in an instant.

Singer Vanessa Downing and Eric Astor had previously played in a State College, PA band called Junction, but where Junction stopped and started, Samuel simply moved. There is, perhaps, something of the East Bay punk sound in Dean Taormina’s guitar and a fondness for skirting the edge of dissonance both musically and lyrically. The title track opens the EP with unsettling imagery and ruminations on mortality; there’s a quieter interlude to be found inside, but by the song’s conclusion, that sense of home has been banished. Over relentless drums and a rumbling bass, Downing sings “You thought you were safe here/ You were wrong.”

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“Held Over” features some of the EP’s moments of relative levity (and the closest thing to a breakdown you’ll hear here.) Downing’s lyrics about “Your starry eyes/ They’re staring in the twilight/ Up into a makeshift sky” are a quick side trip into moods more sentimental than the scorched-earth approach heard elsewhere.

“Sideways Looker” closes out the EP by essentially pushing one mood for two minutes and segueing from there into somewhere much more grim. Essentially, it’s the sound of a band teetering between blissful noise-pop and something distorted and implosive. As Downing instructs, “Look to your left now/ That’s right/ That’s fuckin’ pretty,” her words echo the music, darting back and forth between welcoming and sinister. It made for a hell of a balancing act, and the group’s ability to encompass so much without being easily pigeonholed is why these songs still sting, 16 years later.

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DeLorean

There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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