Sam Flax - Age Waves
Quite often a record reveals all in the first few seconds. 'Fire Doesn't Burn Itself' is in essence the paraphrase of the entire record; combining its cognitive elements into a substantial pop motif, albeit one which harps towards the past of '70's and 80's rock-pop. These ideas are simply, concisely and effectively explored within this track touching on guitar rhythms which become Sam Flax's definitive sound; fantasia-like synths that decorate passages with eccentricity, and a rudimentary idea of percussion. In a sense that's what a first single should do, but only as a tempting revelation of much more to come.
A Sam Flax song has a few basic elements: rhythm guitar hooks, synth accompaniment and bold chord shifts decorated with echo, delay and reverb. Musically he offers quite a lot in terms of textures. Vocal expression is varied; Dance-pop hooks such as on 'Child of Glass' show melodic ability, and droning synths add to the depth of sound. But, with the exception of 'Child of Glass', there's something lacking. Perhaps it exemplifies why percussion is so vital to music. It is the focal point that directs the song and therefore the listener through each shift and without it you are left to float aimlessly through a cornucopia of ideas, which, not being necessarily bad are misdirected or left completely abandoned. The drum tracks seem almost insignificant; a mere imprint of style rather than an indelible mark. What the record contains is not the problem, what it lacks, is.
I suppose in principal the idea of metaphor within music and particularly lyrically isn't a benign one as yet. However, Sam Flax manages to conjure slightly confusing images that make you wonder initially, before the realisation that actually these are just headlines that haven't been properly explored. 'Fire Doesn't Burn Itself' is an ambiguous phrase which is never exposed any further than the title or considered in any depth; 'Everybody Wants' takes the cliché, "Everybody wants something for nothing," laces it with unwavering synths but remains lyrically linear; and 'Further West' plays on his San Franciscan roots, claiming, "I can't run any further west," perhaps an admirable and interesting turn of phrase, but that's all.
Consequently, during periods of instrumentation away from any lyrical content, like 'Homesick for Osaka', you are left with no emotional context to attach the ambient sound to. Flax actually rarely reveals anything emotional within the record. Often, the lyrics are shadowed behind maniacal synths and what seems his intent is to showcase his retro guitar sound instead of any tangible, connective, emotional tissue. His music and influences offer something quite obscure in today's environment. He can imagine glorious soundscapes with unique adornments that signify his style, however, when I looked for depth or dynamism with which to connect with the record I was left wanting.
While the music may be distanced enough from its influences to appeal, the lyrics tend to betray the melodies and hooks with some unconsidered statements. For instance, the counter-intuitive 'Almost Young' is simply stated and never expanded upon. And, in that sense, that is what makes this ultimately retro or vintage, remember Boston's 'epic' realisation – 'More Than A Feeling' – an ambiguous statement that offers no real incite. That's basically the same principal which applies here. The idea of a song with an intriguing title is just that, an idea. What makes it a great song is the exploration and revelation that arises within that journey. What makes a great album? Well, to fall in love with something. Be it tragedy or sublime beauty; misery or maturity – there must be something to believe in. Age Waves never allows you the opportunity to connect any further than an odd lyrical phrase often countered by an inappropriately opposite musical remark. More than anything this is an album bereft of feeling and emotion and its effect is to leave you stranded in its image.