Samn Johnson is a composition student at the University of Michigan. This is his self-released debut album and one might be afraid "Shades" would sound too academic or awkward into feeling the gap between classic instruments and modern influences.
And it would be right because for the most part, this record sounds generic and most of these tracks, and the artwork too, could be interchanged with ones from other young aspiring composers which are a plethora these days with the online revolution of diffusion.
Samn uses piano, electronics, strings, and a few other instruments, effects or field recordings and while technically interesting, often the result seems pointless or just a standard exercise in style.
So why have I considered this album for review?
Because there are two tracks on this album where something unexpected and special happens where finally an identity arise. Both are played on piano and drowned into reverb, but you quickly almost forgot that these ones are just piano instrumentals because you are submerged with emotional waves.
Samn composed "Nocture" after watching Roman Polanski's The Pianist and conceived this as an homage to Chopin, whose music was used heavily in the movie. Musically it reminds me of Harold Budd but in a more vivid and feverish version. It's not easy to pinpoint what makes this track precious but it jworks and in just 3 min 34, it leaves you wanting for more with both feelings of loss, grace and melancholy.
The other one and real surprise of this album is "Hyacinths", titled as such by the author because hyacinth flowers symbolize rebirth. If "Nocturne" could be an accident, here it is a proof of talent and sensitivity because Samn Johnson simply derails from the conventional modern bombastic, serious and often pretendedly haunted piano composition standard. I feel like assisting at a meteor shower one clear summer night in the countryside, you never know when one of these will appear as you never know which note Samn will finally play but each one pushes you to higher lyrical heights as if it may be the last one. Only the last part of this track is deceptive when he introduces other instruments which break the intense charm of a four minutes buildup.