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The Samps - Breakfast Music Album Reviews

Borrowing the sample-crazed approach of the Avalanches, this unlikely California trio create winning tunes from a junkyard jumble of soft-rock keys and big breakbeats.

If the name Mötley Crüe (give or take some letters and umlauts) weren’t already taken or if Tommy Lee weren’t so petty, it would make a great handle for an unlikely California trio. Oakland’s J. Darrah, aka 12manrambo, is a noted collector, blogger, and dealer of rare Bay Area rap tapes. Oakland drummer Harland Burkhart plays in the shape-shifting metal bands Wild Hunt and Dispirit. And Los Angeles’ Cole M. Greif-Neill, aka Cole M.G.N., is a collaborator of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti and a celebrated producer whose credits include Julia Holter, Snoop Dogg, Beck, and Christine and the Queens. But when the ragtag group made their debut EP in 2010, they called themselves the Samps, evoking perhaps the only technique that could unite three musicians working in such wildly different worlds. Sampling is about what you bring to the table, never mind where it comes from.

Their debut EP took the Avalanches’ approach—chopping dozens, even hundreds, of samples and buffing them, like agates in a rock tumbler, until their origins are all but untraceable—and tipped it toward sounds in vogue at the top of this decade, like the squishy funk of Nite Jewel or the pop fantasies of Washed Out. Eight years later, their debut album, Breakfast, continues in the same vein, but it’s bigger in every way: often funkier, frequently funnier, and, at its best, far stranger.

Their palette is a junkyard jumble of soft-rock keys, wailing guitar solos, gargantuan breakbeats, and outmoded drum machines. They apply distortion to everything, with a dash of madcap humor riding just beneath the surface. “We’re gonna have a big fun tonight,” purrs an oily baritone at the record’s outset, before a searching string intro gives way to a starry-eyed line from the film George Washington: “I wish I could go to outer space, man. I wish I had my own planet. I wish there were 200 of me, man. I wish I could just sit around with computers and brainstorm all day.” A bumptious funk romp in the lineage of Todd Edwards and Akufen, “Head” takes the tongue-in-cheek baton in a darker direction, folding in an iconic clip from the 1992 horror film Candyman and a few filthy rap couplets.

Daft Punk loom large over the Samps’ hooks and kitsch. The stuttering hard-rock guitars and drums of “Spice Ship” sound like “Robot Rock” as performed by an assembly line run amok; the sleeker “Hit n Run” flips yacht-rock guitar licks into filter-disco heaven, with vocoders glistening like spun silk. And “Let Me Down” caps the album with its most ebullient mood of all, whipping filtered synth chords and wordless vocals like a meringue, light as the frothiest M83 song.

The Samps are more intriguing when they’re less obvious. Beneath the omnipresent distortion, “World Keeps Burning” has an understated yearning that recalls Washed Out’s “Feel It All Around.” The album’s opening stretch zig-zags mysteriously between acid-fried DJ Shadow tributes and airy pop-ambient that could bring a tear to Godley & Creme’s cheeks. The Samps have cited Kompakt as a major influence; you can hear echoes of Dettinger’s lumpy, off-kilter beats on “Recovery,” while “Try Two Move” sounds like the Field run through one of Tim Hecker’s distortion units. On songs like these, the Samps harness euphoria without tugging too hard on the heartstrings. That restraint goes a long way.

Tucked deep in the back half, between the abstracted “Try Two Move” and the eager-to-please “Let Me Down,” “Backstabbers” seems easy to miss—just a few gossamer synths braided with easy-listening sax, acoustic guitar, and ambient rumble. It all hangs on a single sample, pitched way down, that layers a voluminous kick drum with pastel-colored atmospheres. Every time it hits, it’s like the dull surface of a geode cracking open to reveal a hidden world of crystals. The way it came to be remains a mystery, but the shine is irresistible.

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