This is a review of "A Marker and a Map" recorded by Sam Airey. The review was written by Jimmy Horrigan in 2012.
Be it concept or literal, or a blend of the two, the arterial theme here is a man and his quest. Self-portrayal drawing on various elements; one young mans' journey further into manhood, the artist's deeper immersion in the industry, or an introspective exploration of his own art. Whichever it is, Sam Airey's latest offering is a welcoming and accessible path into his music with a warm spirit of discovery at heart. Each song builds up the kind of intricate local detail often missing from maps as the lyrics seemingly reveal more about Sam. Casting backwards glances, admitting trepidation at unknown horizons and taking shelter in the comforting albeit restrictive anchorage of the familiar; all make for a personal and honest collection of sweetly simple music.
There's a charming frailty to Sam's voice on inward-looking opener "The unlocking". Looking to find something in the "cold, cold hearts" echoes this vulnerability, possibly where Sam even sees himself as a wanderer, an outsider and unable to be loved or find life's fun. But before over-egging the melancholy pudding there's resolve in the chorus backed with lusciously splashing waves of cymbals and evocative strings. "I didn't think it could be done, I didn't think I could be won over like this" but yet after one song - I am. Whether or not "The unlocking" is the moment where Sam first finds himself embarking on love or not would be for him to reveal but as the first song on the EP - it's a fitting way to set off.
"The window" strolls along and although vaguely reminiscent of the theme to Portland Bill, it has such intelligently blithe character it's hard not to amble along, smiling broadly in its company. A search is underway here, maybe for something within rather than without of the body; for a certain unidentified point on the spiritual map that Sam's reading. Progress is key and the decision to "never go back" is juxtaposed by the safety of "going home". There's a push and pull, factors in and out his control lending fatalism to the journeyman's trail. The window itself can be looked in through for reflection, confession and to view what's passed, or it can be looked out of to see what lies ahead. "My head in the clouds and my feet on the shore" underpins the crossroads Sam's reached; one between the security of life as he knows it and the unquantifiable dreams of the unknown. I like the idea that we all have things we'd like to do but routines hold us back while we let them, and articulating this juncture is something Sam does brilliantly here.
"To all the pieces of the puzzle" is a rolling track with an almost shanty like guitar bridge and some beautifully innocent nursery rhyme notation. It feels like a message to everyone that has come into Sam's life, where he acknowledges it's all been part of the same big lesson. However, he confesses both to these people and to those he's yet to meet, "I'm still not home". There's more to learn, to live and it might not all be plain sailing. Indeed in the final track "Floodgates", it sounds as if Sam is beating against crashing waves and the labouring (not laboured) pace sounds as if he's overcoming something or finally at a point he's trialled to reach. There's a further reference to the windows in Sam's life in "Floodgates" too, a nicely revisited theme with which to finish the EP.
Sam's been on my radar for a while now and on the strength of this release it won't be long until these beautiful bleeps reach a wider circle. Easily the best thing I've heard this year and from one man that's adopted Leeds as his home to another, more please Sam.