So in the Summer of 2017, he and his band decamped to a rented house upstate to cut his second album, the magnetic You, Forever. He then realized he could no longer resist the urge; two years ago, Sam and his partner, Hannah Cohen, split from the city, building their refuge in the quiet of a Catskills town. That reflective, relaxing environment inexorably shaped Time to Melt, his third LP and debut for Fat Possum. A glowing set of soulfully psychedelic pop gems, Time to Melt is a testimonial to the life and wisdom to be found when you give yourself the mercy of space.
During the last decade, Sam has become a preeminent collaborator, producing and engineering records for the likes of Big Thief, Cass McCombs, and Widowspeak as Sam Owens, his given name. In their new home, he and Hannah hosted bands like house guests as he helmed their sessions. The coronavirus, though, clamped down on those interactions, largely sealing the couple from their longtime scene.
So Sam tried something new: He sorted through more than 60 instrumental demos he’d recorded in the last two years and began shaping the most enticing of them into songs with help from Hannah and a cadre of long-distance friends—Spencer Tweedy, Chris Bear, Jon Natchez, even strangers who sent him voice memos via Instagram. He took the unexpected time at home to dig deeper into his world of sounds and ideas than ever before, calmly considering our moment of prevailing chaos through a lens of newfound distance.
But the last few years have been purely happy for mostly no one, Sam included. Time to Melt reckons with the weight of our time, even when it sounds largely weightless. Inspired by John Coltrane’s mixture of grace and gravitas and Marvin Gaye’s uncanny ability to turn social issues into personal anthems, Sam strove to give these otherwise-beguiling instrumentals the thoughtfulness and depth these days demand.
With its rubbery bassline and sweeping strings, “Freezee Pops” unfurls like a Summer breeze. It reads, though, like poetic testimony on police brutality, an innocent kid’s life plundered for prison-system profits. And “Knock Knock” taps Sam’s memories of race-andclass violence in the small-town South and his subsequent reckoning with our crumbling American façade, where “we tell ourselves almost anything but the truth.” The song is ultimately a tribute to the perseverance of the vulnerable, who find community and joy in spite of the way centuries of miscreants try to deny it.
There are also songs of utter celebration on Time to Melt, paeans to whatever joy it is we find in life or love. Buttressed by bold baritone sax, lifted by exuberant trumpet, and washed in fluorescent guitars, “Easy to Love” is an exultant ode to finding a new paradise outside of the city, an idyllic setting where you can plant love and literally watch it bloom. “Lonely Days” blows in with a muted brooding, but it’s a feint for Sam’s sweet hymn to a blissful partnership of shared solitude, a true blessing for a year when so many have been alone. “Lonely days are gone,” he repeats, his rhythm shifting just enough in the middle of the sentence to tease dejection and surprise with delight. Sam is so content in the Catskills that the lovely but warped “Sunshine” finds him imagining how heartache must feel, as though it were only ever a hypothetical muse. He sublimates a sense of seasick sadness into a compulsively funky oddity.
At home now near the Ashokan Reservoir with their new rescue dog, Jan, Sam and Hannah mostly listen to music while they cook dinner. That’s the kind of record Sam wanted to make —an album of sounds so pleasant and compelling that you put it on and follow the slipstream. He succeeded; Time to Melt is a waking dream, its intoxicating rhythms and timbral webs as settling, even seductive as an evening glass of wine. But making dinner, or whatever your ritual at day’s end may be, isn’t some idle exercise. It’s a place to unpack the pain and wonder, the suffering and promise of the moment, to reflect on where you have been and what might come next. In 40 striking minutes, or the time it may take you to make that meal, Time to Melt sorts through a year of a life spent in rage and hope, lockdown and love.
1. Freezee Pops
2. Dream Free
3. Time To Melt
4. Knock Knock
5. Arnold's Place
7. Never Know
8. Lonely Days
9. Easy To Love
10. 9.99 Free
11. Around It Goes