Not only does L.A.-based Sam Baker make jagged, instrumental hip-hop beats faithful to the supreme Dilla overlord, but he was the first American signed to Hyperdub and one of the label's few forays into this sort of "beat scene" hip-hop. On that Hyperdub EP (Return), his slap-happy beats felt like they were built from the ground up, nailing that rich and layered synth sound that has come to partly define Hyperdub in recent years.
Hyperdub clearly saw something special in him, and second album Sam Baker's Album comes closer than ever to revealing what that might be. While the album, released on Brainfeeder, is still basically a collection of scribbles and doodles, the sound here builds on the Dilla-esque aesthetic of chopping and filtering with what sounds like original drum machine work and as usual, a whole lot of synths. These tracks wobble and stagger, pushed relentlessly by offbeat drum hits, as if the slightly unstable cores have turned liquid and need to be propped up. As such, Album has the curious sensation of one track bowling over into the next as the momentum is pulled apart and re-assembled, a trait which helps to reconcile the scatterbrained attention-deficit-disorder nature of it all.
The sample material here is different than the usual soul and funk staples. Baker plays around with Italo horror influences ("Escape," "Bricks'), as well as lush '80s disco and pop. And when Baker does appropriate sample material, there's more clarity and separation to his constructions: instead of filtered grain or sludgy synthesis, each element—like the brilliant strings in "Bedtime"—stands on its own. You can see all the seams and stitches in Baker's music, making the meticulous work he puts into it too obvious to miss.
There are also a few glimpses of songwriting and fleshed-out tracks, especially "Frosting" and the breathtaking closer "Sometimes," where the melodies become the focal point rather than earwormy hooks wedged into a one minute diversion. Of course, there are still tossed-off jokes like the downright inane "Kitties," but what can you do? At least with a few longer tracks thrown in, the album has some sense of development. Improving the sound quality, worldly outlook and songwriting, Sam Baker's Album is the archetypal "mature" second album. Not quite a masterpiece but a heartening improvement nonetheless.
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Tracklist: Samiyam - Sam Baker's Album 01. Escape
06. Frosting Packets
08. Where Am I
11. My Buddy
12. No Dinner
14. Wonton Special
15. Taco Delay
16. Lifesized Stuffed Animal
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