Every now and again we find members of well received bands deciding to venture out into the world of solo artists; it’s been as hit-or-miss as a game of roulette. We’ve seen successes like Dallas Green, Slash and the many projects of Jack White; as well as attempts met with either mixed or negative reviews, such as those of Thom Yorke, David Lee Roth, Chris Cornell and Axl Rose. Thankfully, Jon Samuel’s first solo album is one of those rare moments where we are given a whole new sound and artist, one from an already beloved band. First Transmission showcases Jon’s talent as a solo artist, with an almost addictive sound, and we find him ascending above the “indie status” achieved by Wintersleep and further toward the mainstream success enjoyed by solo artists like Dallas Green and – yes it’s an awesome example – Justin Timberlake, both of whom have gone far beyond the groups they started in.
Right from Track 1 – “First Transmission” – we are given a taste of Jon’s upbeat and fun melodies accompanied by simple yet catchy chord progressions. Much like the exprewssion “too many cooks spoil the brew”, we find many artists today pursuing “originality” by including dissident chords and muddled sounds, leading to an overwhelming sensation of “try hard” instead of organic writing. With Jon’s whole album, we are given simple chords, beautiful effect and sound use, mixed with a fun twist of melodies that keep us hooked without going too far. “First Transmission” offers that great East Coast Canada folk sound that’s made artists like Joel Plaskett into stars. It’s short, sweet, and sets the stage just right for “To Love”.
“To Love” is a beautiful mix of Jon’s own upbeat classic sound with Wintersleep-esque tones and melodies. This song (that sticks almost entirely to its root chords throughout) manages to keep the listener hooked with an array of beautiful melodies and harmonies. The 3:55 track goes by in a blink.
Listening to this album, I found I couldn’t help but wish I was on a long drive; that’s just the type of album this is. It’s the perfect road trip mix you could listen to twenty or thirty times over and not get turned off. Each track is its own unique animal while still conveying the same perfect mix of melodies and fun guitar riffs that Jon has created as his personal sound. Tracks like “Relic” offer us the folksy guitar riffs and tones artists from the Maritimes are known for, while “Follow the Leader” mixes dark, country-style guitar mixed with very brit-rock vocals similar to Radiohead or Snow Patrol.
Each track does however offer us the same addictive ingredients of Jon’s soft enjoyable melodies, great guitar, and keyboard tones reminiscent of Wintersleep, all of which combine for an overall upbeat feel. The album is an almost constant rise – even “Crate”, with its ballad nature (and album hit potential), still brings us further up.
Like many good albums, the last song is a great indicator of the message and tone conveyed throughout the album. For First Transmission, the feeling we are ultimately left with is a great Maritime sound from an artist with a permanent smile on his face. This is the album of someone who loves creating music and loves the music they make. It’s truly one of those rare and remarkable moments where a musician just simply writing and playing for the pure reason of enjoyment succeeds in turning it into something universally enjoyable. With “Maelstrom” we are given beautiful melodies and music, as well as the gorgeous vocal contributions of Erin Passmore, to finish off the album with a beautiful sound and smile on our face. After several front-to-back listens, I was left with an easy sense of joy which any music lover will appreciate.
Jon Samuel’s First Transmission is the perfect album for a long summer drive. I’m sure most listeners will agree with my hope that this is but the first of many future transmissions.