In a heartfelt interview with Radio Free Midwich, the experimental songwriter and cosmic wanderer Sophie Cooper tells about how Samandtheplants ‘Flaming Liar’ was her album of the year and why. Read the full article below…
Music wise I’ve listened to a hell of a lot of new stuff but not written about any of it for Radio Free Midwich (see above for excuses) so was surprised that dear Joe and Rob are allowing me to say my piece in the spectacular “best of…” list produced right here. I’ve only got one album to discuss today because it’s the only thing I’ve given my entire attention to and I have listened to it countless times over and over in the car while driving round West Yorkshire. It’s Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants.
This album was originally released in May on cassette by Preston based label ‘Them There Records’ in an edition of just 35. The release came very nicely packaged in printed card and had an extensive insert containing song lyrics and notes that explain what’s what in each song. These sold out more or less instantly and in their own way these tapes caused a bizarre cultural phenomenon amongst those I knew who had heard it. Small talk turned into big talk down the pub, “have you heard that tape Sam did?” became a question asked over and over again usually answered with “yeah, it’s amazing” followed by an in-depth conversation about it. The reason I say this is bizarre is because this type of en masse interest in a record to me is a fairly rare thing. Readers of this will undoubtedly have some connection to the “no audience underground” and we all know that records come and go. In my opinion not that many of them produced on a scale like this tend to linger around for that long. Flaming Liarhas become an actual part of a lot of people’s lives and in my eyes its not too hard to see why.
Sam has a wild way with words and I think at the core of this record’s success is the deeply satisfying song craft that makes each chord change and interplay between melody and lyrics sing beautifully. This artist clearly knows how to put a tune together and in a sense the song structures of the record come across as quite traditional however there is this overarching oddness tying it all together that really appeals to me. Despite being an hours worth of separate ‘songs’ they are presented as two continuous sides of music producing their own other worldly entity as one tune becomes unable to exist without the others. I’m talking from the point of view of someone who has listened to this umpteenth times, as each song essentially ends in your head you’re already hearing the next one and I think that’s the addictive quality of this album that has so many people hooked. Lyrically Flaming Liar really works the listener with things like incorrect grammar and by putting words together that shouldn’t make sense but in conduction with the melodies and genius rhyming couplets it just all fits and after a while you find yourself singing along to every word coming up with fake harmonies and imagery in your head as you’re doing so.
The album is tastefully unpretentious. The songs seem to be written from a personal place and I found myself wondering what could have inspired each one. The liner notes hold some hints at answers e.g. “an anti-hymn of sorts, written in a moment of cold clarity” but at the same time they keep you guessing. On one hand the writer seems incredibly open, most of the words written from a first person point of view with lyrics inviting you to dig deep into your emotions as Sam lays his out for everyone to see: “I light, I trip, I fall. I soil before you all”. There are mentions of deep love and tinges of sadness, there are several references to crying littered throughout the album. Yet on the other hand the messages are obscure and kind of harsh: “you’ve been down, I’ve been down. How are you supposed to sound?” It’s like the artist is messing with the listener in a way, perhaps you aren’t suppose to figure it out, making us come back for more.
I heard about people writing to the label to say thanks for putting this out so I wasn’t surprised when Flaming Liar got another short run re-release this time 50 copies of a CDR. Them There Records did a really nice thing of honouring the tape format by releasing this version as a double CD containing one side of the tape on each so you didn’t lose that glued together effect. Similar attention was paid to the artwork, all hand typed and pretty.
This album was mostly recorded on tape with very few overdubs made later creating this warm and cosy vibe. Tape is celebrated as a contributing instrument throughout Flaming Liar, layered up between songs and over the top. You hear tape being played at different speeds and in different directions throughout sewing pieces of songs together. My copy of the tape had a weird feature during a song soon at the start of side B called “the net was never cast”. Somehow the volume of the song gets louder during a great banjo solo halfway through and initially it was a weird addition but after all those plays it just became part of the fabric. Eventually the label put the album on Bandcamp and I heard it digitally through studio monitors showing me this little “effect” didn’t actually exist. A perfectly placed mistake. I later found out this also happened on another friend’s copy, she loved it as well. I appreciate that this record was made to be heard on tape and it’s made me consider mastering approaches for different formats a lot so thanks for that Sam.
A good song lends itself nicely to this type of lo-fi treatment though and you can’t get away from them here. Clearly the songs have been loved and crafted to the point where they can be recorded in a one take, press play and record at the same time, to the point where they sound effortless. Sam is a skilled instrumentalist moving between notes on harmonium, piano, guitar and banjo like a path travelled many times before. His voice has a story telling quality guiding us through various ways of looking at the world and outsider observations. Musically he throws in notes that take you in unexpected directions and these moments really make the song sparkle making everything come together in a truly magical way.
I love this album! Flaming Liar by Sam and the Plants is number one for me. Sorry I don’t have a top 176 album list for you but I’ve been working. Listen to this album in 2018, physical copies have all gone but the label have kindly put it up on Bandcamp. You can also hear an interview I did with Sam on my radio show Tor FM where I ask a lot of questions about his writing methods. Love be with you in 2018 x