Album review: Samplehound - 100 yds (2020)
In normal times, Rich Townsend can be found playing jazz piano in London big band King Groovy and the Hornstars. His Samplehound project utilises synthesisers and samplers ‘to create music with the aim of making people feel good’, something that is increasingly important as we endure a resurgence of Covid-19 infection.
Released in August 2020, 100 Yards is a mixture of prog-electronica and jazz which takes me back 45 years to a time when I was digesting as much progressive rock and as many novels as possible, from classics to SF and challenging children’s literature, and developing a deep political awareness. Just looking at the song titles made me like the album.
The title track is social commentary presented as late-70s or early-80s electronica, and refers to the short distance between the affluent and more down-at-heel parts of London. It’s surprisingly upbeat and the tempo of the piece matches that of the city (at least in pre-Covid times) and dystopian clichés don’t apply here.
A Song for Ursula is homage to Ursula Le Guin, one of my all-time favourite authors who died in January 2018 aged 88. I love and still re-read the Earthsea books but it’s The Dispossessed which remains my favourite. This is a relatively slow-paced jazz piece with a predominantly acoustic palette and a synthesizer melody line; a fitting tribute to the woman called ‘the greatest American author of her generation.’
Skardu effectively depicts the region of the same name in the mountainous Gilgit-Baltistan district of Pakistan with some fitting ambient/electronica. It runs at a stately pace for most of its 11’12, maintaining the listener’s interest with traditional-sounding patches, though the last two minutes are symphonic along the lines of early-Enid.
The up-front rhythm and angular synth lines of Mr President give way to a repetitive whimsical melody line which neatly captures Donald Trump’s do-things-my-own-way behaviour, alarming his friends and allies and, when he ignores straightforward evidence, kills his citizens by the hundreds of thousands, but still doesn’t seem to care.
Unify, a short track with a sedate, spacey melody is bookended with sampled strings, reflecting that our ancestors are part of who we are, even if we’d rather they weren’t.
The Crows Over the Hill is Samplehound’s attempt to capture the sense of mystery and danger conveyed by some of the books he read as a child, citing The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service as examples. Employing some nice electric piano reminiscent of Steven Wilson’s track The Raven that Refused to Sing along with vocal patches, you do get the sense of the mysterious. The introduction of an urgent rhythm gives the impression of running from danger, and the track is resolved with atmospheric acoustic piano. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished re-reading Alan Garner’s concluding part of the Weirdstone trilogy, Boneland.
Stevie, the shortest track on the album, is an acoustic jazz number, a tribute to Stevie Wonder.