Press Reviews for I See The Sign
- Touching Extremes
- All Music
- The Independent
- Headphonecommute ITV
- Their Bated Breath
- Time Out NY - Sam Amidon at 92YTribeca
- NY Times Critics' Choice
- Obscure Sound
- Crawdaddy Magazine
- Folk Radio
- Stereo Subversion
- The Milk Factory
- Spin Magazine
- All Gigs
- god is in the tv
Sam Amidon's idea of recomposition-- of excavating Appalachian folksongs; rearranging, repurposing, and creating a dissociation that feels uniquely contemporary-- isn't exactly unprecedented. Musicians-- like A.P. Carter, who scrambled up and down Clinch Mountain in the late 1920s, collecting local songs for the Carter Family's repertoire-- have been reinventing folk songs since before we knew to call them folk songs. That's part of what folk music is, and does. What separates Amidon from the scrum of revivalists and archivists is how modern these renditions are. I See the Sign, Amidon's third folk LP, doesn't contain any original tracks, but his interpretations are so singular that it stops mattering how (or if) these songs existed before-- all that matters is how they exist now.
Amidon grew up singing folk music in Brattleboro, Vermont; his parents were members of the Word of Mouth chorus, a community choir which performed sacred harp hymns in the 1970s. Culturally, folk music is inextricably linked to the south (and Appalachia in particular), but rural Vermont has birthed its fair share of traditional strummers (pick up Margaret MacArthur's Folksongs of Vermont for an impeccable primer). Amidon inhabits these songs comfortably, with an ease that belies a childhood spent with a fiddle in one hand and a banjo in the other.
Much of I See the Sign's success can be chalked up to its arrangements, which are fractured and frequently off-kilter; Amidon and his cabal of collaborators-- Nico Muhly, Ben Frost, Shahzad Ismaily-- have been merging chamber music with indie rock for awhile now (see also: Sufjan Stevens, Thomas Bartlett, Owen Pallett, Bryce and Aaron Dessner of the National), and their touch is nuanced and, on occasion, delightfully odd. Bits of percussion, distorted bursts of Moog, and hits of celesta pop up and recede, snapping into place like puzzle pieces. The arrangements are never bombastic (unlike what happens when, say, a pop artist gets paired with a philharmonic)-- instead, they're violent (the stabbing bass and scuttling percussion of opener "Here Come That Blood") or stiff and lonely (the restrained electric guitar and puffs of strings on "I See the Sign"). On "You Better Mind", Amidon, harmonizing with Beth Orton, gets backup from threatening squeals of strings: "You've got to give an account of the judgment, you better mind," they caution. Their voices are grave, concerned.
As a vocalist, Amidon is preternaturally calm, and his flat repetition of certain couplets ("Found my lost sheep," "Loose horse in the valley") feels mesmeric and mantra-like. He's poised, but never cold, and I See the Sign can play like a gospel record, with all the attendant modes and lessons. These are songs to live by (or in), and these iterations-- despite their sophistication, despite his stoicism-- never feel like museum pieces or anything less than functional.
The only non-traditional track here is a cover of R. Kelly's "Relief". On paper, the choice feels a little like a trap (R. Kelly fills an odd role for overeducated indie rockers), or at least a posture-- and while it could be didactic or a lame grasp at irony, Amidon's rendition is stunning. "What a relief to know that/ The war is over," he and Orton sing, their voices earnest and tough, rising over the album's thickest, most optimistic swells. When Amidon finds an affirmation of faith-- "What a relief to know that/ There's an angel in the sky," he sings, grateful-- it's hard not to feel that liberation deep down in your gut.
Pitchfork (April 21st 2010)
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I See The Sign
Released on 19 April 2010
All is Well
Released on 22 October 2007
On the web
- Find out more on Sam Amidon’s website
- Visit Sam Amidon’s page on MySpace
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- Follow Sam Amidon on Twitter