Sam Baker, recording under the alias Samiyam, has long been one of the more interesting figures of the beats scene. A transplant to LA from his native Ann Arbor, Michigan, he quickly aligned himself with some of the bigger names of the burgeoning scene, releasing his earliest efforts including on Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder label, including his collaborative EP with Flying Lotus under the guise of FLYamSAM. His Twitter presence is rivaled in absurdity and endearing self promotion only by your Tyler, The Creator types. This fact seems all the more appropriate when you take a listen to his newest release Sam Baker’s Album.
Tracks here, like on previous releases, are mostly short, mostly unrelated rap beats that batter and clang with the best of them. This certainly seems to be the most straightforward of any of the Brainfeeder releases, it doesn’t have the complexity of a Tokimonsta type, but that’s just not the way Samiyam is. There’s nothing wrong with a upfront collection of banger beats and that’s certainly what we have here. Something like “Cushion” is the type of beat that Samiyam has been doing masterfully since he started. Woozy synths, not unlike those that were present across Flying Lotus’ debut, mesh with a pretty standard drum beat. Nothing is really too surprising, but what he does he does well. But the experience is all too short. Seventeen tracks are squeezed into 39 minutes, which wouldn’t be too bad, but many of the transitions are a bit jarring. The path from “Turtles” – one of the calmer, shorter interludes that might not seem too out of place on a Bibio album – to “My Buddy” – a much more upbeat affair that features a little taste of the rap influence that’s certainly felt throughout – just feels a bit ramshackle. That’s not the only place where this sort of disconnect occurs. The greats of the electronic genre have always made their works immersive experiences, but with these transitions it’s enough to shock you out of any groove every two minutes or so, which is a shame considering the quality of the tracks. Baker has always had a talent for the hypnotic sort of beat found on “Understanding.” It’s simple, and it cycles over and over, allowing you to get wrapped up in those square-wave synths, but the cut at the end of the song is just too rough to allow any sense of continuity to remain.
There really isn’t a single beat on the whole album that’s a weak spot. Throughout he showcases a diverse ability to craft astounding post-Dilla instrumental hip hop. Each one is solid, and some of the vocal samples allow him to showcase the stilted sort of sense of humor that’s constantly on display in his Twitter feed. And you certainly can’t complain that he lets any one beat go on long enough to get stale, but it’s those transitions that keep this from being a masterwork. It’s just indicative of a short attention span more than anything, and while that may be endearing on the internet, it comes off as a flaw in musical form.