Review: Same – “Plastic Western”

SAME, the post-something quartet with the un-Google-able name, is from southwestern Pennsylvania, the duly coined Paris of Appalachia, but not entirely of the place. Now, Pittsburgh is far from a musical monolith. Most storied bands (a recent example being Code Orange) have come from the city’s punk and metal scenes, but there’s a robust diversity to the region’s musical offerings. That said, the place has been well served by those who have dwelled on its uglier underbelly – be it gritty math-rockers like Don Caballero, alt-’90s punk cribbers such as the Gotobeds and noise-rock carnival-barkers Microwaves and TRVSS.

SAME, with their lulling, even THC-hazy delivery and dueling guitars composed of reverb-lined crystal, seem to speak less than those aforementioned outfits to the region’s je ne sais quoi, that hell-with-the-lid-off narrative about steel icons and recovery from a post-industrial precipice. But, with Plastic Western, the group’s long-anticipated debut LP, SAME make their case for being invited to the table.

Formed around 2015, SAME spent their first year holed up in obscurity, not playing any live gigs or trekking to the studio to record any songs. Instead, the group’s four members – bassist/vocalist Jesse Caggiano, drummer Jamie Gruzinski, and guitarists Tom Higgins and Jake Stern – simply percolated, fleshing out their ideas about the new band’s sound and writing material. While SAME’s intended full-length debut instead became two fine EPs (2016’s Weird As Hell and 2018’s Forgot to Say ‘Action’), that sense of care and preparation pervades Plastic Western. Like a long panning shot of the horizon from the passenger seat of a car, it takes in its surroundings – relishing the landscape, every moment and every emotion. The thing is a reward to careful listeners.

Album-opener (and lead single) “It’s Lonely in Doggie Hell” has a weirdly sanguine, even Weezer-ish quality to it that is betrayed by the exciting but slightly more cerebral stereo divide of lead guitars. (In short: it’s more fun on headphones.) For my money, though, the band, quote-unquote “peaks” with the third song, the excellent and languid “Landlady”, which – yes, devoid of “peaks” – masterfully pays homage to the slacker pop-isms of Stephen Malkmus.

Same, though, does more than flash references to bands that have paved the way for them. The title track and, maybe less so, the bizarrely hooky “To the Infinitive”, feel like math rock handwriting on a morphine drip, though frontman Caggiano often saves the day and abandons the monochromatic with his careful coos and casual asides. The winningly titled “¿Cómo está la serenidad?” outdoes most contemporary emo and a ton of half-hearted post-rock in the atmosphere department. Stern’s keyboards, spare but perfectly timed, are indispensable here. Even the too-short “Make It So”, merely an acoustic guitar repeating a textured riff for about a minute, is oddly hypnotic and feels like a completed statement.

Though SAME would do well opening for another atypical Pittsburgh band, say dream-pop outfit Flower Crown, their first full-fledged album of material offers segues into all sorts of varying and wondrous terrain. Anyone that can alternately sound like Pavement or Bedhead has got to be onto something. The verdict: this release is well worth the cash you’ll shell out for it. – Justin Vellucci, PopMatters, May 18, 2020

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