Typically, a singer-songwriter can only get away with sounding convicted if their voice soars to some incredible, high-note – if they crack slightly on the comedown, or if they pull a wincing face while they’re performing. Something I noticed when I first saw Sam England perform was his ability to do this in reverse and with a look of sincere calm about him. If you don’t know what I mean, it’s beautifully demonstrated on Sam’s new single, By Now.
Reaching into the swampy depths of his range, this song’s narrator plays David to his music’s Goliath, keeping low to the ground as he fights for domination in a gigantic soundscape. It’s a blissful listen, but there are definitely two aggravated parties at war here; calm and sadness.
Sam’s experiments in the vocal low-end are a very interesting way of conveying the same thing Adele does on the final note of When We Were Young. Against the extreme polish of heavily affected, guitars and swirling synths, the vocal is brittle – a sweetly fallible humanity in an artificial storm; perhaps even, a realisation of the truth, versus a dream?
As the song progresses, there’s a similar fight between the expected and the innovative. Over a satisfyingly regular chord progression, there’s a brilliantly unnerving set of dynamic shifts – drum machines, pulsing synthesiser arpeggios, hand-claps and a windy vocal breathing gently on the top layers of what is eventually a gorgeously thick mix. Repeat listens are advised: each time, you’ll spot something new – a Billy Bragg cornet, twinkling piano keys – it’s a slowly evolving beast, one whose growth exists outside of its runtime, and instead in its increased tenure with you, the listener.
Sam is beginning to garner some notoriety in Devon. A familiar face on the region’s BBC Introducing segment, he’s a prolific writer and a fascinating performer – even if it’s not your kind of music, there’s something really quite mesmerising in the live enactment of the effects and modulation you hear on record. I urge you to give this guy a listen; for a solo act, his music is extraordinarily full and, even better, he’s adept enough a performer to have talented production on show in whatever context you hear him.