No more excuses
The new year will likely take on a bigger meaning for former Reginan Amara Samchinsky. The local artist, currently based out of Calgary, is playing an album release show on January 3rd for her debut solo record. It’s been a long time coming.
Samchinsky is a good friend of mine. She’s a quiet, unassuming young lady who used to play in rock combo Divine Chaos around the turn of the century. Comprised of a group of friends, the band played muscular rock and roll with a heavy Pearl Jam influence. Samchinsky was the singer, her lovely, emotive vocals providing a stark contrast to the noise.
It’s been years since they had their farewell show but Samchinsky has never stopped playing. The life-long pianist has made writing her after-hours hobby and on Bloom she presents a slate of songs that show she’s been working diligently on her own musical vision. It’s not just a clever title; these songs represent the birth of her own sound as a solo artist and chronicle several of her own life changes in the lyrics.
The record starts exactly how I would expect it; “Surface To Drown” opens with Samchinsky’s dusky vocals and nimble piano. From there the song takes on a whole different life that shows how much work Samchinsky and her producers Spencer Cheyne and Craig Newnes put into the songs. The duo contribute percussion and guitars, respectively, and help fill in the space around Samchinsky’s piano. Newnes wrote fantastic string arrangements that accompany most of these songs, striking a tonal depth that works on every level. Some Hammond organ also plays a good counterpoint to the clean piano leads when it’s added to the mix.
Having seen her perform live by herself before I would’ve said her songs wanted for nothing but the direction Cheyne and Newnes take them is terrific. “Surface To Drown” opens up that sound in a remarkable way, the gradual drums and chiming ride cymbals giving it a wide-open, huge pallet of sound to heighten the soberness of Samchinsky’s melody. It is pointedly minor key, which is probably to be expected; it’s an unabashedly bleak number about a girl battling loneliness, fear, and pain until “she paid with her own life.”
The following track heads in the complete opposite direction. I know for a fact that “The One” is a bit of a revelation for Samchinsky; she played my wife and I an instrumental version of it on a piano in the hotel we were married in this past summer. The record’s liner notes suggest what she told me that day, that the song was inspired by her long-time partner AJ and was the first song she’d ever written in a major chord. The majority of her work is in ghostly, sometimes morose minor keys but in this case major works; love songs in minor keys generally don’t have the same impact. “The One” is also an intensely autobiographical song, her lyrics explaining that she has, “traded in all her sad songs” to make her first genuine attempt at a true love song. She describes how their first date has turned into a lengthy courtship. It’s an unexpected venture into upbeat pop song-writing, evidenced by handclaps, upbeat percussion, and lovely B3 organ washes that serve one of the album’s few hopeful melodies well.
“Wish We Could Be” opens with a piano and vocal combination that is bleak, to put it lightly. The heartbreaking vocal performance throughout this lamentation of love lost and mistakes made is off-set by some wonderfully-constructed vocal harmonies. Her performance here is arguably the strongest on the record, especially when, after four minutes of wishing for what she used to have, she pledges to start over a stronger person. The final coda will give you shivers.
One of the album’s highlights comes with “New Year’s Anthem,” as Samchinsky harmonizes with herself over a march-worthy drum pattern and puts down an assertive piano melody. Lyrically it’s an insistent affirmation worthy of Stuart Smalley, Samchinsky pushing herself not to waste another turn of the calendar and make a change for the better. “Saved up all my courage,” she sings, “quieted that doubt. Wrote myself this anthem and it’s time to make it count.” It’s a stirring encouragement to fight the usual rhetoric and the push-and-pull we all put ourselves through in what usually amounts to a hollow attempt better ourselves.
“Glory Days” closes the album in a wistful, downtrodden tone worthy of the title. Samchinsky pulls no punches outlining how much her days fronting Divine Chaos meant to her, admitting how, “the ghosts of rock and roll haunt me.” Referencing the title of the group’s lone recorded album, she pledges to remember the music they made even as the memories of making it fade. The loveliest and simplest arrangement on this record is the perfect backdrop for her yearning, her spare piano chords and subtle harmonies perfectly hitting every heartbreaking note. Anyone who ever jammed with their friends as a teenager can relate to the aborted dreams of rock and roll stardom she pines for. For all the fragility expressed in the preceding songs I have to admit it was this one that brought a tear to my eye.
If memory serves correctly it’s been about ten years since Amara and her compatriots parted ways. In Bloom’s liner notes she thanks her friends for their support in making this album, which she says they’ve been “waiting a long time for.” It may be just seven songs but Bloom is a testament to patience being a virtue; Samchinsky has taken her time over all those years and created an album that is informed by but not derivative of peers that she admires like Sarah Slean and Emm Gryner. The arrangements show a maturation that only comes from careful writing and painstaking perfectionism. Even if it’s ten years until the next one Bloom shows enough promise that it will likely be worth the wait.
You can preview Amara’s album through her web site. She’s also got a CD release show set for Regina on January 3rd at The Artesion on 13th. Show starts at 7:30 pm.