Like She & Him, Sambassadeur’s music is so catchy and perfect, it might make you feel like a koala bear crapped a rainbow in your brain. Of course, if you get to many koala-made brain rainbows (brainbows?), you don’t have any room to think. Such is the risk one runs when listening to ear candy bands like Sambassadeur, She & Him, Camera Obscura, and a fistful of other bands whose names elude me at the moment. If you’re listening to a high caliber ear candy band, the risk is usually worth it.
I first heard Sambassadeur in 2007, when they released Migration, a string and chime-laden affair that was also the aural equivalent of a really great dessert with lots of French words in the name (like “ganache”). Again, too much will make you sick, but it took a whole lot of Migration to wear me out. And I still listen to it quite a bit. To continue the candy analogy, I’d like to point out that I have a friend who makes insulin pumps.
European, Sambassadeur’s latest effort, is slightly (slightly) less immediately rewarding than its predecessor, though it might actually be musically superior. How can that be? Well, Migration was an avalanche of pop splendor, dumped right in your lap and European is a little more subtle, taking its time to build to the great moments. The finest moments of Migration were uptempo numbers (like “Final Say,” which is about as pretty as a pop song can get) and European’s crown jewel, “High and Low,” is a slow stunner (one of those songs I listen to twice every time I play through the album. The melody is really simple and so is the chord structure, but Sambassadeur is amazing at making a lot out of a little) . There’s a bit more nuance to European and that means it might take you about one and a half listens before you’re completely hooked on it.
This might be a good time to point out that what you’ll be addicting yourself to with Sambassadeur is not lyrically on a par with, say, Public Enemy. Sambassadeur’s lyrics often range from mediocre to decent and they’re almost entirely devoid of any social agenda whatsoever. This is not necessarily a bad thing – I like bands with something to say, but if that was all I listened to, I might well devolve into some sort of dogmatic, humorless prick (this does not excuse, however, the composing of lyrics in baby talk. Looking at you, Anthony Kiedis*).
Sambassadeur gets a lot of their charm from vocalist Anna Persson (I did some lazy internet searching to find out if Anna is related to Nina Persson, the singer for the Cardigans and A Camp, but it was inconclusive at best. I will give a wooden nickel to anyone who helps solve this mystery) and her ability to whisper a melody right into the deepest parts of your brain. If you’ve heard Migration’s “Final Say,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t, listen to it now. Sambassadeur’s other great strength is, somewhat less intuitively, their short albums. Both Migration and European clock in at 9 songs apiece, with one of those nine being an instrumental track. It’s like Persson and company know that too much of this stuff will kill you and they’re looking out for your health. Among the roughly one zillion categories I’ve made up for this blog, I file Sambassadeur under one called “Brevity is the Soul of Pop” – a phrase I’m sure I’ve repeated ad nauseum for the last two years.
I’ve ranted many times in the past about how strong melodies can serve to con you into listening to bullshit (looking at you, Jason Mraz and Snow Patrol and Coldplay), but Sambassadeur might be the exception that proves the rule. No one is going to confuse their lyrics with poetry, but they’re carried over the kind of melodies that you might learn to craft in a pop masterclass. And they’re not so stupefyingly simple that they’ll land Sambassadeur in the top 40 for half a decade (looking squarely, frowningly, at Mraz’s “I’m Yours” or whatever it’s called. Fuck that song in the face a thousand times with the uncleanest cock you can find – I’m guessing, if the papers can be believed, that cock belongs to Tiger Woods), making them easy fodder for Grey’s Anatomy montages and high school dances. Of course, what Anna Persson and company do to distinguish themselves from the whining-over-major-chords crowd is deliver a one-two punch of texture and dynamics (tell your local emo kid: clean guitar on the verse and distorted guitar on the chorus is not a “dynamic.” It’s a formula, one that was used way better before Creed came along**). Persson never shouts on European (though it would be funny if the next Sambassadeur album was called American and Persson did nothing but shout on every song, the subjects of which will be issues about which she has neither the intelligence nor desire to become fully informed. If she finds a way to become morbidly obese as the album progresses, I think we’ll have a pioneering entry in the world of “concept” albums) but she uses her voice to its full (and considerable) extent over strummed electric guitars, nifty keyboard licks, and lilting string parts on nearly every track. If I’ve painted Sambassadeur as a band that is far greater than the sum of their parts, it’s because they are. European, like its predecessor, should not be as good as it is. But it is good, in moderation. Listen responsibly.
* I probably misspelled his last name, but I don’t care. Stadium Arcadium was one of the biggest pieces of shit I’ve ever heard, especially the white-bread, frat-funk, asshole anthem “Hump De Bump.” You can like whatever you want, but if you try to convince me that’s anything but a musical crime, I will fight you.
** By a band called Hum. Check out You’d Prefer an Astronaut for proof of this. In fact, check out You’d Prefer an Astronaut anyway.