Stepping out from the comforting anonymity of playing supporting textures in a popular band is not a new occurrence, but for Wintersleep’s Jon Samuel, it’s a rewarding one. Samuel’s debut solo LP, First Transmission, is a beautiful, warm and surprisingly scrappy affair.
The immediate sonic similarity I heard, appropriately, was to another textures focused musician and under-appreciated solo artist, Jim Bryson. Samuel and Bryson both write bare bones, uplifting pop songs that soften real emotion with floating escapes. First Transmission blossoms from simple chords and crucial, but minimal support. Keybooards, bass occasional female backing vocals (from Rah Rah’s Erin Passmore) thicken the mix, add muscle when asked (“Relic”) but never crowd or overpower Jon’s voice.
For Samuel, First Transmission is a chance to be heard and thankfully the songs are focused and even when Jon drifts into more conventional singer / songwriter numbers, the arrangements and vocals are engaging. At his best (“Darkwood” and “The Man Who Fell to Earth”), Jon lets melodies grow naturally until spacey textures and beautiful backing vocals dance in your headphones and move alongside his voice.
First Transmission shows that Jon Samuel knows exactly what notes are required to complete a thought and ensure the seal on a melody is airtight. More importantly, the ideas presented show Jon is talented enough to stand on his own two feet and make listeners smile. In today’s sad sack, mope-core world, that joy shouldn’t be dismissed easily.