I’m just going to come right out and say it… Sam Flastic Hughes might be a genius. He might be, with his discordant blend of angular pop rock and quirky electro jazz, reflecting themes of modern isolation and loneliness, political turmoil and anthropological angst. He may be a genius, committed to playing volatile, surprising and (on the first listen at least) baffling music; it may all be intentional. Or… He might not be, he could just be an imaginative nutcase playing around with a keyboard and a computer, unintentionally stumbling into themes and the innovative musical phrasing that we come to know and love. Everything I’m about to say might not have been intentional on SFH’s part… Which still kinda makes him a genius. I think. Fucked if I know.
I previously wrote about SFH’s last album ‘Soft Out Of Seventeen’, an enjoyable fairytale of a record. While ‘SOOS’ was an affable, expansive and delicate listen; pleasant in its meandering flow, it felt timeless, it wouldn’t stick with any one tone for too long and resembled a wonderful mesh of decades and styles. Sam Flastic Hughes’ new record ’This Time a Bird’ is an entirely different kind of album altogether. For one thing, it has a song on it called ’Motherfuckers’ and secondly, it really, really feels modern. ’TTAB’ feels so much like a cynical reflection of our time: I‘m not going to start moaning about cheap entertainment, pubs shutting down, brexit or how much freddos cost now – these points have been made at length elsewhere – but all I will say is that a lot of people are currently unhappy with the world we live in, and ‘This Time a Bird‘ echoes that sentiment entirely.
‘This Time a Bird’ is best described as being a charmingly direct listen, it’s a little more accessible with more vocals used this time round, and boasts an open and visceral honesty that is truly remarkable. The catchiness of the first album is still apparent (opener ‘Heartburn’ has a wonderful singalong chorus behind a murmuring electronic beat) while the melodica still makes an appearance in the title track. Throughout, discordant jazz clashes with whimsical prog pop (‘Caught in your Spell‘) crating an intense atmosphere that contrasts wonderfully with the albums prettier moments. Ultimately though, the record is a plea for more, more from society, more from our world leaders, more hope, courage and happiness. It’s a cry for something; or else I might as well just fly away. It’s a record that embraces this conflict, balancing overt self preservation and the desire to help others. The music reflects this perfectly; Politics and music aren’t often welcome bedfellows, but Sam Flastic Hughes apparent nonchalance seamlessly ties it all together. There are even (Ralph Wiggum-esque) moments on the album where you can just about pinpoint the moment where Sam has been broken by Machiavellian politics and PR (not that there’s really no need for subtext on ’Motherfuckers’ anyway).
Just like ‘Soft Out of Seventeen’ it’s a little difficult to get into on the first listen, there are weird little moments that don’t mesh immediately but on the second listen, something clicks somewhere in the back of your mind, and the odd flourishes now sound right. It’s welcome and rewarding, and honestly, it’s so worth the effort. The record boasts impressive guitar work, immensely competent production and despite the messages/theme of the record, there are some really lovely pieces of music which are outstanding in their own right (’Back to Wogan’ is as warm and kindly as such a title befits, while ‘What Fux you up‘ is my favourite song of the year!). Sam Flastic Hughes might be a genius, or he might not be. I wish I fully understood where’s he’s coming from. But then, would it still be as charming? It works, Sam Flastic Hughes music is always initially a strange listen but I love it, and despite being so different ‘This Time a Bird’ has surpassed the talent displayed on ‘Soft Out Of Seventeen’. It’s a wonderful record, do yourself a favour and give it a listen (or two!!!).
(If you’re wondering where Alice comes into this review since her escapades last time with SOOS – well, lets just say that by the sounds of Sam’s record she has put down the Kazoo and picked up a petrol bomb)