Salmon Friends – Salmon Friends – EP Review
T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for a Salmon…
Adaptation right? You can call it whatever you like…but make no mistake, after writing as many of these reviews as I have personally, I’m always on an endless quest for another new way to start out an article. Much like the independent musicians out there or artists of any kind – the last thing I want is to ever chain myself to one style and not allow my mind & imagination to enjoy the freedom to explore ideas of all-kinds in what I choose to write about – or even worse, somehow become a lifeless copy of myself.
It is no secret to anyone out there reading that over the past four-plus years of sleepingbagstudios’ history that Sam Caviglia’s grunge-rock band Fey was at the top of my list for what I personally wanted to listen to. From the moment I saw them take the stage in their first official show at The Media Club, to checking out their first available material, to the release of their album Bye Bipolar and the eventual release of the Sugar LP split with noise-rock band Closer…to numerous live-shows being taken in both before and afterwards – I was the guy at the front yelling his face off always hoping for more…because I truly wanted it then and would always want more in the future.
One of the questions I often like asking to bands of four-members or more is how they go about ensuring that all the needs of each individual are met inside of what they create – and I ask it not so much expecting an answer so much as I do expecting the band to consider this perhaps even for the first time. I’ve always viewed it as an impossibility at the end of the day…I think finding a balance whereby each and every member wants for nothing more would be unrealistic to ever expect or even pursue – but still people try all the time. Towards the end of my time in Vancouver, BC…I had seen enough & heard enough of Fey over time to know that somewhere inside of their machine, the gears were bending, changing and the needs of the players continued to evolve into different interests and demands from the routines of life to pay more attention to things outside the music. It happens.
But as an artist in a band, you’re left with a choice. You can sit and wait and hope and write and get ready…but if your own creative input eventually reaches a disproportionate level by comparison – the choice becomes no choice at all; that new outlet needs to be found. Tons of bands experience these moments, giving birth to solo-artists, collaborations and new projects all over the world…never means you can’t still have both & as far as I know, Fey still exists today – but the reality suggests that a true artist might very well implode if not able to find that new avenue of expression.
Once again…I make the point of adaptation…the most necessary tool of our entire existence; combining that ability with Sam’s desire to make his music into a long-lasting career and a 180-degree turn towards a whole new sound – he found the courage required to force himself to NOT wait any longer and take full control over his own destiny once & for all.
And it was with this decision that Salmon Friends began to stir for the very first time, though admittedly it was in a recording studio and not in a house as I had implied at the beginning of this article.
Was I tentative? You fuckin bet I was. I was about to go from listening to one of my favorite projects in the independent music-scene of the past four/five years to a new side-project with what was reportedly an entirely new direction & sound as well. What I knew then before I pushed play is the same thing I’m more than confident about today – and that’s that Sam Caviglia is capable of writing one hell of a song. So while I might have been worried about the future of Fey and whether or not a band I’d spent so much time loving may/may-not still exist…there was a moment of curiosity about whether or not Sam would be able to find another magical strain of music that would resonate just as strongly with me as I got ready to listen to the Salmon Friends EP for the very first time. Change can be an extraordinarily difficult thing for fans to accept; anyone out there remember the backlash that Stone Temple Pilots took when they made Purple? They were ridiculed for making a record that was outside of the ‘grunge’ sound by even an inch…an album that would go on to be lauded as one of the best decisions and sets of songs they’ve ever made over time. I always keep that experience in mind when I listen to a new chapter of someone’s story…I think it’s important that as listeners we give our heroes the freedom to change in pursuit of their sound & art.
Because the results can quite often be much more stunning and extraordinary than you’d initially expect…just like this one was.
With the strummed acoustic and mandolin accompanying the distant sound of Sam’s vocals beginning the alternative-folk experience of “Crosshairs” – it was immediately apparent that the entire experience of listening to Salmon Friends was going to be extremely different from the sound of what he’d already explored in the music of Fey. Rightly so! Again…as much as I loved Fey – to hear Sam depart on a side-project to simply make something similar would have been so pointless to me; and to hear that the sound of Salmon Friends was so unique, different and fresh from those past ideas instantly blew my mind right open in such a blissfully satisfying way. The qualities I love in his voice…that earnest & honest indie-crack in the tone that resonates with authenticity was still there completely – but replacing the searing & tortured screams of his past music was now a sincere set of songs with genuine singing, beautiful melodies and intensely clever compositions that combine sweet ambition and progressive ideas inside a gentle, tender & extremely invitational sound.
As far as I understand it – Salmon Friends was intended to be a revolving door of willing musicians looking to dedicate some time to the material and bring it to life through mutually shared enthusiasm. That sense of real collaboration is all over the spirit of this EP and instantly on display with “Crosshairs” – you get a real hit of a unified sound through all the players seeking that stunning final result and lending their best to their performances. Todd Sanft immediately makes an impact with his intricate mandolin parts perfectly complementing the smooth acoustic rhythm from Sam and the exceptional talent on the violin from Nick Wong. Lyrically…this first tune also sets the stage for this entire project and gives you insight into some of the mindset behind Sam’s move to create Salmon Friends and what drives him forward. With solid melody, great vocal-flow and musicianship – “Crosshairs” begins the record with a uniquely accessible sound that is just as satisfying to listen to as it is guaranteed to make you curious about what might come next and where this sound of Salmon Friends will take them.
Real credit to the songwriting for certain – “Blueprints” will leave you 100% convinced of the validity in Sam’s new project – but also real credit to the magic in the musicians surrounding him that have helped bring these tunes beautifully to life. “Blueprints” has all the ingredients of a great single and a sincere approach to its gentle rhythm & groove that is certain to connect to listeners all over the globe. Lyrically, Sam’s nailed this one with solid parts that people can definitely sing along with – and for those out there looking for deeper meanings it pretty much doesn’t get any better than this song. The contrast between the dark & mysterious narrative in the song’s storyline and the absolutely gorgeous nature of the music around them was a brilliant move. It’s ideas like this that truly last…you get that awesome & easily digestible sound that immediately satisfies…and for those that want more, “Blueprints” is so lyrically impressive and imaginative I could write an entire essay on this one tune. Absolutely loved this track and think it could be a defining one with new fans out there – there’s an infectious energy and uplifting vibe in this song that really takes hold of you. From the breakdown at two-minutes or so in to the song & forward, this entire project shows you the fantastic mettle they’re collectively made of, with soaring & extraordinary vocals and impressive instrumentation carrying you through to the end.
Showing a bit of his grunge-roots while exploring post-grunge much the same as Pearl Jam did on “Indifference” at the end of their Vs. album – Sam strips it all down to the bone on “Beautiful Lady” to create one of the most haunting and memorable moments on the entire EP. Accompanied only by the keys of Jordan Cunanan – Caviglia sounds entirely committed to this song in every way it required; with its minimal atmosphere – it’s largely left on his shoulders to deliver, and he does. The beautiful backing-vocals add a ton of depth to the subtle sounds of “Beautiful Lady” and through the combined performance you really feel like they’ve gotten absolutely every drop exquisite sound explored perfectly. It’s a song that takes the record in a majorly different direction than what we’ve already heard here on the Salmon Friends EP or anything we’ve ever heard from Caviglia – and he comes out with a MASSIVE win with a minimal sound here on “Beautiful Lady.” Designed to give you chills as you listen, this song completely hit the mark and would be a style/sound I’d certainly encourage Sam to explore even more in the future.
Of course…every time I got stuck on “Beautiful Lady” and how unique it was from the rest of the EP – the immediate charm of “Aliens” was right around the corner to remind me just how much I was really digging the full-sound of the band together as well. Nick Wong really deserves a ton of credit for his violin parts throughout this entire EP…songs like “Aliens” really come alive and find their most vibrant moments when he’s at his most involved. But YOU tell me what DOESN’T stand out about “Aliens” by the end? Every element of this song has its moment and perhaps flexes the unity in their shared experience through Salmon Friends better than any other song on the record. The friendly upbeat guitars from Sam and Jake Cummins, the groove in the bass from Scott Whalen, the melodic keys from Jordan Cunanan and incredible additions on steel drums/percussion from Sam & Royce Whittaker perfectly complementing the subtle beat from Leon Power…everything really shines brightly on this song and has its own moment in the spotlight. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt like it continually gets stronger and stronger…I love the beginning but by the end of this song I was speechless. Just prior to the third-minute, the breakdown is extraordinary; Sam’s vocals are right on target and echoing the surrounding rhythm in the tender acoustic. The bring-back is pure beauty in audio-form…the fading of one simple repeating line ‘No lies’ from Sam dissolving immaculately into the music as it takes over to the end. The transitions and evolution of “Aliens” and its stunning finale was without a doubt one of the most satisfying experiences from a song’s beginning to end on the Salmon Friends EP for me.
“After The Sun Sets” is another solid choice as a lead-single for this EP. Though I feel like there’s audibly been a strong argument as to why ANY of these would be a great choice to bring the people in – I would think this particular track stands perhaps a better chance than the rest in hooking in sets of ears from all over the map with the accessible sound & stunning songwriting you’ll find on “After The Sun Sets.” Leon assists fantastically on the drums here, notably with Scott’s bass parts as the rhythm-section springs to life anew; another song with something for everyone – it’ll start in a much more gentle fashion than where it’ll end up. Heading into the chorus of “After The Sun Sets” was a real highlight moment in this song for me…the pre-chorus build is extremely strong, as is the snap-back into the verse’s rhythm. Clever progressive ideas combined with smart production really lead “After The Sun Sets” to its overall victory…and for those wondering whether or not Sam’s still got his signature throat-ripping, soul-piercing screaming ability, he’ll give you a quick taste & reminder of its power still being fully present at a moment’s notice before Royce launches into a crunchy, extended electric-guitar solo to carry the added grittiness of the song to its end.
The amount of focus in the songwriting, sound and performances is truly noteworthy…and in my personal opinion, probably on maximum display through the slow-burning intensity of “On The Run.” Proving the emotional power of his songwriting is something he can adapt to any environment, Sam has once again found a way to damn near stop time with his performance in “On The Run.” Beautiful evolution from the verse to chorus in this track; I like the isolated feeling and lyrics he’s created to mirror the energy of the haunting atmosphere of the music in the verse – but that chorus is straight-up magical altogether. The big-beats of Leon’s drums begin to kick-in with the perfect crashing of cymbals leading into an extraordinary melody & vocal-flow that connects with the sincerity and strength of the soul exposed confidently for all to see & hear. “On The Run” feels and sounds highly personal…that connection to the words is boldly audible and the music surrounding it rises & falls beautifully, perfectly aligned with the energy of its intentions, lyrics and atmosphere.
Jake Cummins of Closer steps in to write & lead the way on the final-track, “The Bone Collector” – and this entire song of less-than two-minutes was an extremely rad inclusion on this EP. While it plays & sounds nearly like an afterthought in the studio-sessions with just an acoustic guitar from Jake jamming along with Sam’s bare-naked hazily-vibed blues-rock vocals channeling a Cornell-esque performance – this song is the definition of short & sweet. The rhythm, melody & groove are all there…but it’s the combined loose-feel with its focused and confident approach that made this feel like a completely worthy inclusion. Kind of like Jake and Sam were the last two in the studio and flipped the switch one more time to see what came out…and then THIS happened; I don’t remotely question the inclusion of this cut – as naked and vulnerable as “The Bone Collector” is comparatively to the rest – this is a performance that will absolutely stick with you. Sam puts on an electrifying and charismatic turn on the microphone that once again adapts to a whole different style and sound with tremendously positive results.
For all the parts played, songs written & recorded – every hand involved along this journey should be proud of this final result. The Salmon Friends is a stunning EP full of songs that really hit their own groove…there’s an audible uniqueness here in this project that really captivates and I’ve been sincerely impressed with everything I’ve heard throughout these seven songs. Most impressively however, is Caviglia’s ability to retain us as fans while providing something completely new to our ears – that’s no easy task.
To do that…to make that versatile switch and succeed through adaptation, you’ve really gotta be the ‘real-deal’ when it comes right down to it. Time and time again…from the studio to the stage and everything I’ve ever heard from him…Sam Caviglia consistently proves he truly is the ‘real deal’ through intensely genuine performances where the ears can easily hear that making music seriously means absolutely everything to him. With a full team of committed performers, musicians and talent surrounding him – Salmon Friends is set to be released to spawn all-over 2017…and after everything I’ve experienced on this record I certainly hope this project continues long, long after that.
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