reviewed by Michael Thomas
To even begin to categorize what Alex Samaras is doing with TRYAL would be to do it a disservice. As a writeup on the album’s Bandcamp page says, Samaras is at once deeply human and a touch of something supernatural. Companion is about a search for human connection, be that romantic love or otherwise, and Samaras pushes his vocals and arrangements to a point where they feel simultaneously complicated and simple.
To be clear, vocals are the centrepiece of this album. Samaras has a huge range in his voice and emotes so clearly that at times he borders on opera. In some songs, like “IAm,” he’ll hold a note for several seconds, in others little vocal effects will make his words move like waves. And he’s not the only voice; he has an almost unfairly incredible group of singers who appear on this record. Ivy Mairi, Felicity Williams, Martha Farquar-McDonnell, Ghislain Aucoin (Triple Gangers), Robin Dann (Bernice) and Thom Gill all make at least one appearance. They only add to the very human element of this album.
Samaras’ backing band is slick, featuring drums, guitar, bass and keys but deployed subtly, the music taking on a jazzy quality at times. Keys are probably the most notable element of the music, especially in opener “IAm,” which starts on a very long synth note before Samaras’ vocals come in. The song feels mystical and enrapturing, gently leading the listener into the rest of the album.
From that point on, Samaras is looking for connection. On the title track, Samaras continues to ask “Don’t you want to keep a companion/All of your life?” Here, companionship seems like a chore as he tells the listener “Don’t be mad” and “Don’t be sad.” In “Come On,” one repeated staccato key note begins the song Samaras asks for trust.
What is the “Road Game” Samaras sings about? Who knows, but in this song, companionship seems to be a challenge. Things reach somewhat of a head in “All I Know,” where Samaras sings entirely in a falsetto, his voice getting higher and higher as he sings “Let go of my heart, the fist.”
Companion feels like a living, breathing thing. However good or bad companionship may be, it’s something everyone needs; and if pondering its nature produces more work like Companion, then it’s just the kind of complexity we need.
Top Tracks: “Come On”; “Show Me”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)