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Album Review

by Sam Hamilton


Review Date
25th June 2013
Reviewed by
Nicholas Walsh

Integrifolia is the fourth effort from globe trotting Auckland native Sam Hamilton. It's a distinctly modern affair informed by world music, psychedelia and dance music.

As a sound artist and stalwart of local experimental music, Sam Hamilton has developed a knack for collaging eclectic instrumentation with elements of electronica. True to his reputation, an attempt at identifying the vast array of instrumentation and sound sources on Integrifolia would be a waste of words and ultimately an injustice to the music itself. Who knows what exactly is being sampled here and what isn't, and frankly, who cares? By Hamilton’s own admission the genre of this music is “freewave” and the first half of that neologism is the operative word. This music is genre defying by definition.

To listeners familiar with Sam Hamilton’s previous output, Integrifolia holds a few surprises. The record has a sense of urgency and purpose characterised in the chord sequence to opening track, ‘Ubuntu'. With the addition of the vocal line, "let's make it rain", it quickly becomes apparent that Integrifoliais Hamilton's most accessible effort yet. Vocals - which have taken a backseat on previous offerings - play an integral role on this album and go a long way in setting it apart from earlier excursions.

While it retains the experimental hallmarks of its predecessor, Pala, Integrifolia is unabashedly pop music. Songs are short and their arrangements relatively sparse. There’s also an increased focus on groove, with driving rhythm and bass laying the foundation for most of these tunes. The result is a more accessible though no less heady concoction of sound. One that gives Integrifolia a real sense of uniformity and purpose.

Track two, the indulgently titled ‘The Sovereignty of our rebellious love’, is a standout from recent live shows and a likely contender for a single. While it could have been an epic five minute banger, on the record Hamilton has kept the arrangement sparse and brief. It's a bit of a shame that washed out vocals prevent it from reaching its true pop potential.

To some surprise, somewhere within Sam Hamilton there’s a charismatic balladeer just waiting to get out. On ‘fuck shit up’ Hamilton does his best Isaac Brock drawl, seemingly imploring the listener, “when we get sick of the game, we just change the rules again”.

It appears Sam Hamilton has found the beauty in under statement. Most of these songs have a motif - a simple hypnotic hook that guides the listener through. It's a technique that serves the album well, acting as a guiding presence which prevents the tracks from falling under the weight of their own experimentation.

The songs are all the more effective when they’re stripped back to their core. Rhythmically speaking, Integrifolia cherry picks between dance music and world music. In the whirl of disparate instrumentation, the presence of live drums ties things together, affording the album the warm sound of a band playing in a room where it could have easily sounded like the work of a lone bedroom producer.

The album was recorded in New Zealand and the US but its worldliness transcends both of these locations. This is modern pop music seen through an experimental lens and it carries the weight of the many years Hamilton has spent honing his craft. The real feat that Hamilton has pulled off is to make a record that does justice to his experimental leanings as well as his aspirations for pop music. The vocals in particular make Integrifolia Hamilton's most inviting album yet and allows him to draw from a wide range of emotions.

You can almost imagine ‘Integrifolia’ as a deconstructed and heavily edited version of what might have been a much longer opus. While it’s a far cry from being a pop record in the traditional sense, you get the distinct impression that Hamilton is testing the waters. Integrifolia is a strong record and one that looks poised to take Hamilton's music to a wider audience. Wherever in the world he might find himself...


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