Formed by singer-songwriter Fred Bjorkvall and guitarist Geoff Gamien, the current line-up of Sam Kills Two was rounded out by drummer Matt Bell in 2006. Two years in the making, their self-titled debut finally sees the light of day in 2009 courtesy of indie label Rocket Girl and with the fingerprints of ex-Dodgy frontman Nigel Clark all over the album. It’s been quite a few months for the Britpop also-rans, what with Mathew Priest showing up in psych-rockers The Yellow Moon Band.
Sam Kills Two reprises three tracks from a previously released EP, Electric Shock, Polar Winter and Flatland. The latter opens the album on a delicate note, with double-tracked acoustic guitars creating a suitably calming atmosphere.
After that calming instrumental, 2020 opens with a desolate piano before moving into a soft folk rock shuffle. Bjorkvall’s vocals are gossamer thin indie but provide the perfect counterpoint to the music. The repeated refrain “we lost it some how” is the key here to the album’s air of autumnal melancholy.
The introduction of electric guitar on Passenger List ups the ante somewhat, although the upbeat cheerfulness of the music remains at odds with the lyrical tone, which is set by the opening line ‘All the rivers turn black/Nearly gave me a heart attack’.
After that odd interlude the album switches into top gear with the gorgeous Lay Low, on which Bjorkvall’s intimate vocal is given added gravitas by a sinuous cello line. In sharp contrast, No 6 opens with a buzzing feedback line before segueing into a twisting folk pop song that provides the album with a rare burst of sunshine.
The self-explanatory Instrumental No 2 does what it says on the tin and provides the trio with further room to showcase their virtuoso skills. Following on, the blend of acoustic and electric instrumentation and Bjorkvall’s plaintive vocals on Your Whisper runs Lay Low a close race for the album’s best track.
After a slight detour into jazz-lite on Floating that does at least support the subject matter of the song, the album closes with the previously released Electric Shock and Polar Winter. The hazy feedback on the former is one of many exquisite production touches throughout the album, while the minor chords on the latter gradually build up to an explosive finale.
Unfortunately, the curse of the hidden track rears its ugly head yet again with the trio choosing to tack on a campfire sing-along that rather spoils the mood they have so painstakingly built up on the album.
Despite a few false steps (the shuffling drums sometimes veer to far into jazz territory), this is a fine debut from a talented band. With the indie clout of Rocket Girl behind them, hopefully Sam Kills Two will gain a foothold in a crowded market. It’s the least they deserve.