ALBUM REVIEW: Samiam – ‘Stowaway’

Artwork for Samiam’s ‘Stowaway’ - a cargo ship tipped over, with some cargo floating away to sea

Pop-punk has often been discredited as ‘growing old disgracefully’, a trend that sticks with the young, and dies with the late-twenties. But glimpses of misplaced youthful hope keep the embers burning, flashes of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater round a mate’s house or BMXing on a concrete slabbed boardwalk. Or the huge chorus of She Found You, Samiam’s 1997 anthem which captures all that. Going against the grain of the opening statement, almost 30 years later they’ve stumbled, regrouped, and refashioned the genre’s carefree Californian ethos again. Bring me sunshine.

Skate-punk’s elite bottled reckless abandon onto wax time capsules for all teenagers that’ll endure heartache and school locker post-its. Luckily, the 2010s managed to take it to more captivating, saddening and complex sounds in its Tumblr pizza party bands, namely The Wonder Years or The Story So Far, a scene which should be reclaimed as the beautiful musical anomaly it was at a dodgy-at-best time for (popular) music. Not so luckily, we’ve seen the no hit, all miss Blink reunions. As for Green Day’s “100% pure, uncut rock” on Father Of All…, it’s really not worth rabbitholing into wallowed frustration. Especially after their ever-brilliant Dookie catapulted pop-punk’s popularity, creating bidding wars for the band’s contemporary Gilmanites including Samiam, who signed with Atlantic for 1994’s Clumsy.

The band never managed to capitalise from A-league exposure, or cement themselves like the iconic wallet chain pop-punk godfathers of at the turn of the century. Instead, they worked away as beloved Berkeley natives passionately promoting their local scene and sound.* Now, Samiam brings back all the cartoon vibrance of beers-by-the-halfpipe in 1994, bolstered by production craft and the experience of recovering from failure that only learned punkers can authenticate.

“I never worried whether or not I could sing. I just wasn’t sure if I wanted to,” states singer Jason Beebout. It places such an endearing quality to Stowaway, a record sporadically concocted across studios, blighted by pandemics and imposter syndrome by a group now in their 50s: “there’s always something in the way,” Beebout fittingly bellows on Lights Out Little Hustler. The morose pops up often. We’re immediately introduced to escaping from, well, everything, on a highway and quaffing champagne with shame in Lake Speed, life’s highs and lows dictated through gruff vocalisations on a thrilling pop punk ripper. When Beebout isn’t “drowning in a puddle of regret” (Shoulda Stayed), he’s assessing California’s apocalyptic wildfires on Natural Disasters. Where Maynard James Keenan would’ve once rather seen it all washed away with a flood, Samiam instead sees the romance following that threat: friends and partners will be there waiting. There’s a lightness to human failures, after all.

Musically, it’s not all milk ‘n’ cookies powerchord punk either. Sean Kennerly and Sergie Loobkoff’s riffs complement as well as they ever did. An impassioned chunky wall tops off Highwire, while the title track’s inventive jangle riffing verses build into a dreamy, atmospheric chorus. Their sweet little licks that underpin the vibrant one-phrase chorus in Shut Down puts a big dumb grin on my face, while slower tempo Monterey Canyon is as good as anything the ‘90s harkening post-hardcore kids are trying these days. You can imagine it all backing a Jackass-style videocam montage at a beach barbecue fuelled by Red Bull. Like their namesake, Samiam have collectively brought the green eggs and ham nostalgia we’re never sure we want until we get it served up. They’ve refined their recipe, all with an unabashed confidence, despite recording disparately for the first time in a decade.

It may not assist modern versions of AFI to the upper echelons the Top 40, but who fucking cares? It’s a delight to see a band reignited, already immortalised in the sweaty main room of Gilman, perhaps with their name carved into “the bench at the bus stop” somewhere in the Bay Area. All later generations will want the sights, smells and sounds of Samiam’s anthemic pop-punk. We all remember when we first heard Dexter Holland scream “a-yah-yah-yah-yah!” after all, right?

*Not to say that the scene-stealers did wrong: Smash, Enema of the State and American Idiot are wonderful cultural landmarks of outrageous quality.

For fans of: Pennywise, No Use For A Name, Lagwagon

‘Stowaway’ by Samiam is released on 31st March on Pure Noise Records.

Words by Elliot Burr

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