4./5. SAMA DAMS
SOUNDS LIKE: Stumbling into a dark industrial warehouse and hearing a warped jazz album playing somewhere in the shadows.
When interviewing the members of Sama Dams, answers typically come in the form of an inside joke. In the course of an hour, sitting in the Southeast Portland home of singer-guitarist Sam Adams (not the former mayor) and his wife, keyboardist Lisa Adams, everything from Midwest gas-station chains to the struggle of gift-wrapping footballs becomes fodder for conversation.
"We're avid Yelpers on the road," says drummer Chris Hermsen. "Sam has this alias where he basically writes very wholesome and detailed and kind comments." Such targets for optimism include Buffalo Wild Wings, which Sam Adams praised online for its "unique ambiance"—even if, privately, the group vows to never step foot inside one again.
That lighthearted joking belies a band whose music is streaked with darkness. Sama Dams' sophomore album, last year's Comfort in Doubt, is fraught with a sense of impending doom, built through wicked shreds of distortion, frenetic rhythms and the Adams' eerily intertwined vocals.
It was the first album the trio, which formed in 2011 after Sam and Lisa moved to Portland from Michigan and met Hermsen, started and finished together. In comparison to 2013's No Vengeance, the production was rushed. Comfort in Doubt was recorded in three days under a tight, self-imposed deadline, with the band members writing much of the material by playing what they call "the 20-song game," in which they gave themselves 12 hours to write 20 songs.
It was challenging exercise, but it helped the band venture into new territory it would have otherwise talked itself out of exploring. Album opener "My Ears Are Ringing," for instance, is a sparse song that steps away from the group's fuzzy, experimental sound and welcomes more soul influence, backed by a scattered, stuttering beat, shaky keys and Sam's bellowing croon. He admits to being hesitant to put the song on the album.
"I was like, 'We're not going to do up some pastiche of the genre that is not part of our sound,'" he says. "All it takes is doing that one time, and then it's part of your sound, I guess. Now it's really nice. We'll have at least six polkas in running for the next album."
That's probably another joke. But Sama Dams is already looking ahead to the next album, which it hopes to spend a little more time on.
Portland's Best New Band Poll Winners
Finalists: No. 2 | No. 3 | No. 4/5 | No. 4/5 (tied) | No. 6/7
No. 6/7 (tied) | No. 8 | No. 9/10 | No. 9/10 (tied)
SEE IT: Willamette Weekâs Best New Band Showcase, featuring Divers, The Domestics and MÃ¡scaras, is Friday, May 15, at Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave. 9 pm. Free. 21 and up.