The boys of Wintersleep aren’t strangers to side projects, or handling multiple projects —drummer Loel Campbell has participated in over eight other bands, most of the time with at least one other Wintersleep member in the group. Keyboardist, guitarist, and backing vocalist Jon Samuel, the newest member of the band, is following suit with the release of his solo debut album First Transmission.
He’s aided in the studio by fellow bandmates Campbell and Tim D’Eon, but First Transmissions is very much Samuel’s project—the album is his own response to news headlines, pop culture dialogues, politics, religion, and his interpretation of the artist’s struggle. Perhaps because of this varied terrain, his debut album sweeps through genres, playing momentarily with each before moving on to explore something new.
Opener and title track “First Transmission” sets the tone for the first quarter with its indie pop beat and emphasized falsetto (though the slightly problematic falsetto recurs throughout). Its immediate follow-up contrasts the poppy nature of the former with a pensive, softer demonstration of acoustic guitar.
“Relic” is the first spot where the album really picks up—despite the slow, vocal driven intro, the introduction of a kick drum beat and electric guitar really helps the song pick things up before everything descends into a dreamy haze.
The next three tracks build on the mix of indie-rock-pop plus falsetto before “Darkwood” comes along and Samuel drops his voice and creates a pop-driven acoustic melody that promises to carry you along a highway during a mid-afternoon road trip. The introduction of a keyboard midway through brings us to the next phase of First Transmission, which brings Postal Service to mind. After a brief interlude, “The Man Who Fell to Earth” builds on this and the whimsical adventurous tone of the song contrasts with the first half of the album.
Samuel shines best when he suddenly alters the genres on the album—grouping the songs the way he has, one track tends to blend in with the next until the change, which makes it easy to tune out before being jolted back in. Instrumentally, he’s strong throughout and transitions between pop, rock, and light electronica with ease. The extremes of Samuel’s falsetto tend towards a generic indie pop sound, but when he abandons it for something more natural, Samuel really shows off his talents as a vocalist. First Transmission is an interesting experiment of individualism by an established group performer, and it reveals a lot about Samuel’s influences.
Top Tracks: “Relic”; “The Man Who Fell to Earth”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)