For a group of friends who say they never really intended to be a band, Charlotte, North Carolina indie rockers The Sammies have built quite a buzz for themselves in recent years.
The band’s first paying gig was in 2004, and in 2006, its self-titled debut album made waves in the college circuit and landed in the top 5 of CMJ’s music charts four times. You may have even heard songs from it on NBC shows such as Friday Night Lights and Las Vegas, and mainstream films, including Employee of the Month.
The Sammies’ appetizing — via the face-shaped sandwich of an album cover — sophomore effort Sandwich continues upon the band’s penchant for infectious, hook-laden material spread across multiple genres that characterized its self-titled debut.
On this latest release, two brothers and two pals who nickname themselves Frank Backgammon (vocals/guitar) and Donnie Yale (drums/vocals), along with Conrad Vacation (bass/vocals) and Bobby Freedom (keys/guitar/vocals) mix familiar classic rock, post-punk, southern and indie rock influences into a fresh set of sounds over the course of thirteen mostly enjoyable tracks.
While The Sammies’ self-titled debut had quite a few punchy, high-energy rockers (in the vein of AC-DC, The Stooges, and Devo) and charming indie rock (a la Sea Ray), this new release delivers a lot of liveliness but distributes it in new and different areas, in addition to the classic rock realm.
Early tracks like the provocative “Sleep In My Clothes” and especially track two, “Rufford,” with its tremolo-like electronics and casually cool vocals sounds like David Bowie-meets-Echo & the Bunnymen. The sunny and glorious arpeggiated chords on “Pinecone” make for a lovely pop rock tune (with a heavy bass) that got many a repeats on my CD player.
Felt-esque ‘80s jangle pop characterizes “Golden Sun,” a song which “depicts a cloudy point-of-view that clears with maturity,” according to Backgammon. The brooding, slightly psychedelic pop of “Billy Mitchell” also feels like a long-lost gem from the ‘80s post-punk era.
The fun, turn-back-the-clock pop rock of “In The Basement,” which hints at latter day acts like Jet, will make you put your dancing shoes on. But the dancing soon gives way to the most head-banging moment of the album, the classic rock worshipping (a la Johnny Winter) “Treat Her Like A Queen.”
Producers Billy Bennett and Ben Holst (Drive-By Truckers), as well as The Sammies themselves seemed to purposely add supremely polished production on some tracks, and held back for a rawer, garage rockin’ sound on others. Hence track eight, the Strokes-sounding danceable rocker “Glisten,” one of a few tracks where the kids let out a few spontaneous “whoos!” before kicking into high gear.
Track nine, the midtempo, Wilco-like pop rock of “Carried By The Breeze” may be the first song the band ever wrote, but other than some lively keyboard work and a heavily reverbed vocal, it’s nothing special.
The airy southern pop of “Old Grey” however, a tune about getting older, has bluesy/honky-tonk piano fills, gorgeous lap steel (by Ben Holst) and an instantly catchy vocal chorus for a tune written in the key of B minor.
Final track “Saw Your Mother,” besides ending the album on a triumphant note, is practically a four-part journey over five-and-a-half minutes. It starts with ascending and descending riffs played behind a poppy, danceable backbeat. About halfway through, a cheerful-sounding organ takes center-stage during a proto-punk section that is reminiscent of Boston band “The Glow,” and then quiets down for a sober, Clapton-esque acoustic strumming segment. And just when you think the song is over, a sudden shift to ringing, icy guitars and twinkling atmospherics ends this album highlight just as it began, with an obvious homage to Echo.
For a group who started out in college not too long ago – Frank and Donnie went to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte – playing for friends at parties and getting “paid in beer,” The Sammies have developed some serious and highly dynamic songwriting chops relatively quickly over the course of a couple albums.
With Sandwich, The Sammies have practically taken the last forty years of rock and roll – 60’s and ‘70s classic rock, 1980s post-punk, southern rock and garage rock revival – and put their own stamp on it. The result is an album full of memorable tracks. It should be a contender for indie album of ’08 (and will be up there on my list).