Released: January 2015
After enjoying plenty of critical acclaim with debut album Black Light, Streatham Hill’s Sam Genders left the capital and moved up to none other than Sheffield, the ‘Steel City’ serving as an unlikely source of inspiration for an artist looking to develop his sound. On Chromatics Diagrams traverses synth-pop and folk music, fusing the naturalism of acoustic guitars and harmonic vocals with fuzzy basslines and drum pads to present an album that borrows from Bob Dylan as much as it does MGMT and classic electronica artists.
It may have influenced the societal musings of Pulp and Arctic Monkeys over the years but just how industrial South Yorkshire made its mark on the work of Mr Genders here is something only he could tell you, as this is a record teeming with pretty deep lyricism, poetry both personal and philosophical.
“Reality, such a strange geometry” he ponders on opening track Phantom Power, a folktronica guitar ballad that finely displays the artist’s ability to fuse the natural and organic with the synthesised and electronic seamlessly. Gentle Morning Song and You Can Talk to Me are both tracks that reflect their titles; soft guitars and minimalist drum pad beats emanate an intimate tone that allows for Genders’ introspective and speculative poetry to take centre stage.
What is essential throughout the record is that the folksy elements of the music take precedent over the electronics. Only on Dirty Broken Bliss does Genders’ music sound like synth-pop with acoustic inflections as opposed to vice-versa, and it’s here that we find the album’s weakest track. Otherwise it very much feels like a guitar-led affair with astral synth sounds and disco grooves making frequent but rarely overbearing appearances.
A few tracks, particularly during the records final third, follow a more simple template, one rooted in straight forward guitar music. The Light and the Noise recalls The Stone Roses I Am the Resurrection without the deeply emphatic chorus and post song jamming session, whilst Just a Hair’s Breadth has a real art-rock feel to it; this final track could easily fit into Damon Albarn’s latest release. When Diagrams is feeling less experimental, less daring in his criss-crossing of genres, the album is probably at its least intriguing, but that isn’t to say Genders can’t throw together a decent ballad or Velvet Underground-style guitar number.
Genders’ vocals are on point throughout the LP, recalling a number of iconic singers from the aforementioned Blur vocalist to Nick Cave and Ian Brown. At times he even holds the power and authority of Morrissey when really on top form, his emotional intensity at odds with a controlled melodicism to form some really affecting performances. Instrumentally, poetically, vocally, Genders has formed a really strong all round record here.
Chromatics is a fine album that meshes minimalist drum beats and warped synth sounds with tender acoustics, creating a sound belonging solely to the man who created this record, and who embellishes it with his equally diverse vocal ability. Fans of Badly Drawn Boy, Lou Reed and I Am Kloot will find plenty to sink their teeth into with this fine collection of carefully crafted low key ditties.