Album Review: Samia — ‘The Baby’
Posted: by The Editor
Samia’s career trajectory feels hyper-specific to the late 2010s. After self-releasing a few songs that caught the attention of the shadowy content gargoyles that build playlists for Spotify, she soon had a song placed alongside stars of the moment like Snail Mail and Chastity Belt. That song, the ghostly and eyebrow-raising “The Night Josh Tillman Listened To My Song”, had people wondering just who this Samia was, and where she came from. That information is, of course, a Google away for the curious. Her next single, the summery, relaxed “Someone Tell The Boys” had a similar playlist placement success. She found herself with countless listeners, but without the artist’s persona that feels integral to how careers are forged in music, particularly now. As someone who spent years watching as fledgling pop artists drop single after single to build name recognition, no album on the horizon, Samia’s method made sense. It was, however, curious to see it work so well for an artist making music decidedly closer to indie rock.
Now though, after many more singles, Samia has finally released her debut album, The Baby. Much of the record focuses on vocals, ballads with sparse instrumentation. This feels prudent, as much of Samia’s appeal comes not from lyricism, or musical prowess, but from her voice, which marries the airy gait of Ariana Grande to the rich emotionality of Mitski. You could do a lot worse as an indie-pop artist. She uses that pop inclination to her advantage on “Fit N Full,” an ode, on one hand, to reckless abandon and public nudity, and on the other to issues of body image ingrained by living in New York. Samia proudly declares during the radio-ready chorus, “If you want / I can take it off / show you what my momma gave me.” It’s both a bawdy dare and also a commentary on how much physical appearance matters in our society. Samia is leaning into the ridiculousness of patriarchy while skewering it. The song grooves and shines, far and away the most straightforward pop song in her discography. It has intense potential to live for years in HBO shows and movie trailers.
Much of the album’s middle section is composed of frothy mid-tempo tracks and ballads. None are bad, but none of them feel like anything noteworthy either. The sort of material you want to feel fulfilling and nurturing resonates more like they have served you a four-course meal of plastic food. Songs like “Limbo Bitch” and “Stellate” are glossy and full of potential, but go nowhere. This is a common issue throughout and makes a lot of The Baby feel hollow.
Like her first foray into music, the album closes with a forlorn ballad with a wordy title, “Is There Something in The Movies.” This time, though, plucky guitar rather than echoing piano keys serve as the track’s foundation. That movie love is superior to or more desirable than true human relationships is not exactly untrodden ground, particularly in pop music. Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream ends with an equally cloying, pensive ballad called “Not Like The Movies,” about largely the same thing, though, hilariously, about Russell Brand. Ah, 2010, what a time. Anyway, Samia’s take is slightly more well- executed, her lyrics darker and more imaginative “And I only write songs about things that I’m scared of / So here, now you’re deathless in art.” It’s not enough to salvage it, but it makes it listenable.
The Baby succeeds in its goal of being a debut album by an artist of many singles. Most of it feels cohesive, sounds good, and makes sense as a collective piece of work. I can’t help shake the feeling, however, that I feel no closer to knowing anything more about who Samia is as an artist. She’s a decent songwriter, able to evoke heartfelt and gut-wrenching stories, and a brilliant singer, but there remains an anonymity to the album that colors my enjoyment of it, keeping it at a distance. The fog of mystery around her seems no closer to breaking up, no closer to showing us the human being behind the shroud of artifice.
Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal
Eric Bennett | @seething_coast
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