SAM GRAY SINGING - Songs About Humans
The cover artwork and the label’s comparisons to bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion let me expect another dabbler in the post rock genre, but if Sam Gray Singing’s music is supposed to be post rock, he might just have singled-handedly reinvented an entire genre.
Sam Gray is from New Zealand, and met musician and his future label boss Jacob Faurholt. Both shared a common interest in music, but soon Jacob went back to his native Denmark, while Sam relocated to Austria. Somehow the two artists found each other online several years later, and after some time Songs About Humans was released on Jacob Faurholt’s Raw Onion Records.
The original versions of the songs must have been self-recorded and quite bare, but over the years, there were parts (clarinet, drums, saxophone and violin) added by several guest musicians. The final result is a nearly one hour long masterpiece which left me taken aback already after my first time through. Sam Gray is a trained classical pianist, and he emphasises that no synthesizers were used on the album. Instead we get a thoroughly organic sound, and the somewhat dry production adds even more weight to the music’s sincerity.
Songs About Humans starts with the seven minute long Scratches, a piece of music starting out in an incredibly fragile way, with a string section and the discreet piano laying the backdrop for Sam Gray’s equally fragile vocals. But it doesn’t take long for the song to gain momentum, and as soon as the saxophone joins in, we are transported into an entirely new world. This sounds as if classic line-up Van der Graaf Generator were teaming up with the later Talk Talk. Another thing which strikes me is the discontinuous nature of the song. At times if feels as if it’s over, just to start all over again. This strange trick is used repeatedly throughout the album, to a bewildering yet enchanting effect.
The following Bigotry is eight minutes long is the album’s noise rock track. Sam Gray has distorted his guitar to the max in order to conjure something like a mix of Nineties noise rock and drugged-out shoegaze pop. Plenty of experimental moments make sure that the song doesn’t feel too long. Next up are three shorter tracks, where especially Dineen mesmerises with impossibly beautiful piano playing. If there were to be a single off this album, it would absolutely be this track. The nine minute long Late March, Oslo is a somewhat weird piece of music that never really seems to be going anywhere and still manages to capture your attention during its entire length, before the quarter hour long magnum opus Diversity takes the honours of being the undisputed highlight of the record. This song has it all: quiet, meditative moments, rousing progressive rock outburst, tension, momentum, genius,… everything! After such a momentous composition, the album ends of a cello octet version of the noise rocker Bigotry in a mellow way.
I don’t often give albums the maximum rating, yet for this one, it sadly seems too little to describe all the magic and wonders you will encounter here. Most great records today have impeccable songwriting and the right attitude to touch your heart, but Songs About Humans has even more. Sam Gray Singing is not only an incredibly gifted musician, but he also realised the quasi impossible by creating something totally unique. Contrast this with the fact that as of me writing this piece, he only has 40 “fans” on Facebook, and we are faced with the biggest injustice of the artistic world. I strongly suggest you drop everything you are doing right this instant and get your hands on this impossibly beautiful piece of art!