OK, here's a strange one - a CD that comes with a disclaimer! Apparently it's "by no means EP quality and the songs aren't the finished article", but having enjoyed the USA live onslaught, I was keen for a listen all the same. There's only two tracks present here, an epic seven minute version of "Sweet California" (it's shorter live, apparently) and a much more manageable three minutes of "Hide Your Influences", and despite ambitious claims that they were going for "that band in a room sound", I'd have to say "slackers in a garage" comes to mind more immediately on first listen - hints of Americana a la Gomez and so many other British bands that seem unsettled under grey skies.
The sound is a little too mature to fit neatly into the college rock genre, though, but the deliberately American slant does lend it a familiar feel, with Sweet California opening gently, falsetto vocal lines croaking back down to whispers behind big wet guitars and a simple, restrained rhythm. The likes of James Iha, Wilko and even The Eagles seem immediate bedfellows for the opening few minutes, but then Sammy USA show their true colours with an explosive, chaotic and really quite frightening middle eight, leading into a drawn-out ending passage that seems to build without really going anywhere. It's like Brechtian theatre on CD - holding your concentration by force or surprise with much the same method Pavement employed to such effect, always reminding you it's there and needs to be heard.
Musically it's all present and correct. The singer croaks in tune, the guitars sound great throughout and despite the disclaimer, the sound isn't bad at all and the arrangements show signs of real thought and some graft - an area many bands overlook until they get an overpaid producer to baby-sit them through the recording process.
So, after enduring a baffling but enjoyable seven minutes it's on to "Hide Your Influences". Again there's a relaxed, but rhythmically more adventurous, verse with the same clean but full-sounding guitars playing off each other wonderfully until the chorus, and the fuzz pedals, crash in. The performance could be neater in places, but overall it's tight and musical and doubtless achieves the goals they set. I recall recent comments by the band that they didn't want to produce a 'single' - by which they qualified that they were unwilling to commercialise. While honourable, it seems a shame, given their ability to create an atmosphere and good use of melody, that they don't allow themselves one song that doesn't threaten the neighbours when the mandatory 'loud bit' presents itself. Still, it's testament to the band that seven minutes passed in a flash for Sweet California, and with a little variety (that may already be present) a full album of material is something I'd probably quite enjoy.
There is a market for this music, and Sammy USA will be primed to take their place in it in the not too distant future on the basis of these early offerings. Good luck to 'em, but how about a song about Yorkshire sometime?