Premium is the glistening debut album from New York-based Sam Evian. Sam describes the album as; "an analogue dream in a digital world." Like flowing water, its cool surface entices and refreshes - then reveals hidden emotional depths. The sound of Premium recalls a sunbaked cassette of Pet Sounds or All Things Must Pass, composed with glowing guitar chords, aching pedal steel, Wurlitzers and iconic 20th-century synths. Inspired by the soulful classic sounds of Jackson Browne, Shuggie Otis, Sly and the Family Stone and The Band, as well as contemporary influences such as Cass McCombs, Broadcast, Cate Le Bon, and Chris Cohen, this is music meant for a close-up experience; spacious, dreamy, fun, and disarmingly open and honest.
The music came together quickly when Sam found himself in what he calls, "a Premium set of circumstances." An engineer and producer as well as in-demand guitarist, Sam befriended the founders of Brooklyn's Figure 8 Studio, Eli Crews and the enigmatic and inspiring Shahzad Ismaily. After helping them to build and wire the studio, Sam explains how he found himself at the centre of a musical community; "I was surrounded by endlessly talented and fun musicians in a beautiful recording environment that I helped build. I felt confident and happy, so the music came together easily."
That musical community included the group that recorded Premium. The album's nine songs reflect the casual, relaxed atmosphere Sam created for himself at Figure 8, gathering his friends to record in off hours, capturing moments of offhand inspiration and laughter. There was Austin Vaughn on drums (Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple), a long-time friend from North Carolina School of the Arts, and Brian Betancourt on bass (Hospitality, Here We Go Magic, Luke Temple). They were joined by Michael Coleman on keys, a prolific player and producer, as well as being Figure 8's studio manager. Pedal steel was provided by Dan Iead (Cass McCombs), and recorded at New York's legendary Magic Shop studios in the days just before it closed. The tracks were some of the very last recordings in the room that had witnessed sessions by David Bowie, the Ramones, Blondie, Real Estate, Kurt Vile and generations of others. Other guest performers include vocalists Cassandra Jenkins and Hannah Cohen, Shahzad Ismaily, Eddie Barbash (the saxophonist on the Colbert show) and Steve Marion (aka Delicate Steve).
As an intensely personal project, Premium is full of intimate anecdotes and glimpses of Sam's domestic life in New York. Premium's first single, "Sleep Easy" is at once instantly recognizable and fresh, and it presents an intimate world of relationship and home: "Sometimes, when it's late I have to wait for the A train for an eternity. The E train lumbers by with its naive melody, reminding me that it can take me closer, but it can't take me home. I've been in a relationship for three years. My partner is an extremely light sleeper. In my mind, I am delicate. In my mind, I am a dancer. The reality of our darkened apartment proves otherwise. 'Sleep Easy' is the ballet of my domestic inadequacy."
Other songs entwine the personal and explicitly political. For instance, "I Need A Man" calls for an end to the tyranny of ignorance, racism, sexism and violence, written after a number of stories of sexual abuse in the music industry. As Sam explains; "The last few months have made the narrative of this song more desperate as it relates to male offenders of all sorts." The song "Dark Love" presents a danceable vision of love at the apocalypse. And "Big Car" layers a classically irresistible guitar ode to driving with a distinct undercurrent of uneasy restlessness. As Sam elaborates, "I just remember wondering if I'd ever feel the same surreal freedom that I felt, flying across the bayou at 70 mph in my old Ford."
Premium is filled with contrasts. With emotional depth and an intriguing combination of sounds, this is classic music for a modern mood.