Monday, May 02, 2005 at 8:24 PM

Samuel / 'Sideways Looker'

No mid-nineties band bridged the gaps between punk, post-hardcore, and indie rock quite like Samuel. For the members of the last band of my high school days, Samuel was the only band all three of us could consistently agree on. The drummer was all about the '77 sound, at the time nurturing a growing love of mod-punk, ala The Jam. The bass player was firmly entrenched in the world of California screamo, worshipping at the altar of Still Life, HeartattaCk, and Ebullition. I was caught somewhere between intelligent pop-punk and indie rock, still pretty familiar territory.

For us, Samuel had it all. The music was downright propulsive, while managing a nice balance of melodic and abrasive. And vocalist Vanessa Downing had a voice that effectively blended urgency, pain, indignation, and optimism into a beautifully tight package. I remember someone once describing them as Velocity Girl if every member of Velocity Girl could kick your ass. (That's probably a bit too simple; back then, every indie-ish band with a female singer was compared to VG.) On our way to shows, Samuel was the perfect compromise between Generation X, Indian Summer, and Superchunk.

In retrospect, the craziest thing about my love for this band is just how little there was to love. As far as I know, their discography was limited to two seven inches (one issued later on CD with two extra tracks) and one split seven inch with Texas Is The Reason. So it's quite possible they released only seven songs. But Samuel was definitely a band where quality won out over quantity, anyway. This track is by far one of my favorites from the band. It really perfectly showcases both their gritty, angular pop songwriting as well as their immense musical talent. Listen for the twenty-second-plus snare roll near the end, with the lyric "yeah, that's fucking pretty" being spit out on top, right before the song seems to fall back together for the climax. Pure punk pop perfection.

As for a 'where are they now', I'm not 100% sure. Vanessa Downing and guitarist Dean Taormina relocated to Rhode Island and formed the indie outfit Rosa Chance Well, playing with a variety of New England indie luminaries like Jeff Goddard and Gavin McCarthy of Karate and Chris Brokaw of Codeine and Come. Some of their music can be found at Epitonic.com. Drummer Eric Astor went on to run the Art Monk Construction label, which seems to be defunct, and Furnace CD Manufacturing, which is far from defunct. He also continued playing drums in the breakfast violence band Mancake with members of Frodus. And if you missed out on the breakfast violence scene of the late-nineties, I sincerely pity you.

Sideways Looker
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