SASAMI is the solo project of Sasami Ashworth, an LA-based multi-(truly MULTI) instrumentalist who plays French horns, keys, bass, guitar, synths, and strings, in everything from local LA rock bands to full-on orchestras. So for an artist so well versed in the studio (and fresh off a two and a half year tour with Cherry Glazerr), how does she choose to make the debut of your own vision? The eponymous SASAMI (out March 8th via Domino) is less a big splash in indie rock and more of a continual, sure- handed paddling along by a seasoned musician, with songs circling around retrospection and scorn.
Opener “I Was A Window” has a sluggish, distorted guitar over a jangle-pop melody and crisp drums, Sasami’s voice coming at little more than a whisper as she reflects on silence and how she’s been wrongfully blamed in the past. This leads into “Not The Time”, an uptempo blast of jagged sonics that fits the lyrical theme of a lack of chemistry in the moment. Even on the album’s slowest tracks, the rhythm is always quick, though hooks can drone on in dance-like fashion (“Morning Comes”). Sasami takes her time, but much of the song structures leave room for grand buildups and payoffs that never quite come—the snarly “Callous” is the most obvious example, opting to stay relatively dry and level, never reaching any emotional peak (nor even a peak in volume), which is a shame considering the song’s strong start. “Pacify My Heart”, which sounds like a distant and slightly tinny track from Brand New, has the same problem springing from a strange level mixing of the audio tracks. Combined with Sasami’s own vocals, never flaring above a hush, many tracks sound distilled and fluffy—a purposeful(?) but perhaps questionable decision.
What Sasami does best is allow the disunity of instruments to weave through each other, making the moments of syncopation so satisfying, especially heard in “At Hollywood”. Again, the crispy drumwork and Latin-inspired guitars on “Adult Contemporary” complements her voice well, moreso than the blitzing tempo on most tracks. Lead single “Jealousy”, with its watery guitars and anthemic synths, is noteworthy for its unique chorus—tiny voices crying “jealousy” in Sasami’s head—though again as the ‘climax’ coalesces all the noise and feedback into one surge, it stays level. Not falling flat, just never taking off like it feels like it could.
SASAMI’s self-titled debut is like flipping back through the many distraught emotions found in a diary, repeating and chanting its lyrics with the comfort of hindsight. The complex and talented layering of instruments impresses, though sonically things never come together with the satisfaction they demand. SASAMI feels like indie rock distilled to a science, though it’s missing that emotional spark to rekindle the now hollow feelings it covers. Standout tracks are “Not The Time” and “Adult Contemporary”.
review by Matthew Wardell