This is a review of "Working on the Inside" recorded by Samsa. The review was written by Sam Saunders in 2003.
Samsa cite influences in Radiohead and film, and they come out of their box as an augmented guitar band with wistful vocals and thoughtful lyrics. They play with panache and plenty of evidence of long rehearsal and genuine musicianship. The shadow of Radiohead is long, however. A distinct Samsa sound is still struggling to find itself.
Oli Deakin (from somewhere in Cumbria) is the creative force in the band, playing a range of instruments and arranging a glorious strings episode on "Always take me on". I don't know any technical name for four cellos and one violin, but this ensemble features a room full of Deakins and friends and brings a rather gloomy song to a more than satisfactory conclusion. The strings crop up in the delicate "Aquarian" as well. The drumming (Oli Deakin again) is way better than most "local" bands, but it's very ordinary in the company of that string section and in the context of the huge ambition behind the project.
Among some relatively plain tunes (but just keep in mind that Samsa are head and shoulders above your average) "Simple Little Ritual" at track 8 is an outstanding song. It scoots along busily with gulped breathing and great momentum to a big frothy crescendo that would be the monster part in a live show. This last section , divides cunningly either side of some nice filigree guitar work.
On this first CD, recorded a year ago, the limitations of home recording ensure that when it comes to the next phase of Samsa (and there will be one, fear not) everything will have to be recorded again. With no specialist drummer the percussion tracks are a particular disappointment. Here and there, "The Comets" for example, guitar chords are rather clumsily recorded with no particular shape or texture. Bass guitar gets a more careful treatment, and that is a consistent quality on the album. Some very nice piano on the closing track "High Class Inventions", shows the benefits to be gained by playing in front of better mics in a well chosen environment.
After the first few listens I was a long way from convinced that Samsa were serious contenders. But by chance I heard the "hidden song". Physically part of the last track, you won't hear it unless you leave the CD running for five minutes of silence after "High Class Inventions" has ended. It is outstanding, and far more mature, assured and creative than anything else on the album. I very nearly didn't hear it at all and this review might have said "dull band doing Radiohead impersonations", or something equally stupid. The secret on this track is that the simplicity of the recording process is a perfect match for the simplicity of the song and its realisation. Yet again, less means more. Chords on a bass, some light guitar and electronic touches in the background set up a very compelling harmonic progression that allows the elegantly separated vocals to move in with natural grace. A serious achievement, and arguably worth more than the other eleven tracks put together. Collectors should definitley buy this CD.