Review: SASAMI – Squeeze
National Music Reviews
SASAMI = Trent Reznor + Aimee Mann
Sasami Ashworth has transformed from Eastman School of Music graduate, scoring films and commercials and providing the synth end of Cherry Glazerr into a shape shifting, multiinstrumentalist wunderkind. Listening to SASAMI’s (caps preferred) new album, Sqeeze, reminds me of mid-’90s Nine Inch Nails, late-career Aimee Mann and the Girlfriend-era rock candy of Matthew Sweet. SASAMI possesses that unique musical ear of understanding the sounds of the past and cloaking them in the future. Squeeze is SASAMI’s Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars record, a tease of what you’ve heard before with a sensation of listening to something beautifully alive and new.
SASAMI goes all in on Squeeze, inviting a cast of cool kids to contribute to her wide-reaching, feral vision. Indie legends Ty Segall, King Tuff‘s Kyle Thomas and Hand Habits’ Meg Duffy all contribute or co-produce tracks on Squeeze. The opening salvo, “Skin A Rat,” is a nu-metal electronic burner with Megadeth‘s Dirk Verbeuren murdering the song on drums and Vagabon‘s Laetitia Tamko and comedian Patti Harrison contributing backing vocals. The track may sound like a crowded house but “Skin A Rat” is the reinvention of SASAMI. “Why does your cheap attention throw me off / Put me off, get me off, make me want to set it off,” she growls with static, injected vocals. “Skin A Rat” is a loud, brutal, metal crush of a song that gets your attention.
The second track, “The Greatest,” continues to be noisy and reveals itself to be a perfect break-up song. “Burn it slow, let me drink the smoke.” This sounds like an Aimee Mann lyric and SASAMI’s non screaming singing style is shockingly similar to Mann’s. I hate comparing to other artists, but the similarities are uncanny, and that’s not a bad thing. “The Greatest” is a love loss manifesto of not wanting to let go, elevated up with elite and quirky heartbreak lyrics—”Baby, I’d never turn away / In your arms I’d forever stay / But you’re the one on the interstate / Leaving me on the roadside now / You draw a line, and I licked the paint.” It’s hard to succeed when you’re backing a line like “the greatest love of all,” but SASAMI delivers. It also helps to have Duffy tear up the track with a crunching, active guitar.
The rest of the album continues to ignite under under SASAMI’s sprawling, loopy invention—the yacht rock breeze of “Call Me Home,” the insecure desperation of “Need It To Work” and the beautiful jazz instrumental “Feminine Water Turmoil.” All mesh into SASAMI’s weird tapestry. “I’m a loner / I’m a sorry entertainer,” SASAMI sings on the brilliant Daniel Johnston cover “Sorry Entertainer,” which fits perfectly on the record as SASAMI turns the original lo-fi, hollow fragility into an in-your-face, rock-fueled burner. The track rattles out with a Batman-theme bass line and ends with a swirling, slicing guitar. SASAMI fills the middle with a not-so-controlled rage, replacing Johnston’s original nervous ramblings.
Every great record needs a Fleetwood Mac–like slow down to close things out, and SASAMI leaves one of her best for last. “Not A Love Song” is a power balled rocker that properly brings Squeeze to a close. “I tried to turn it into something so profound / It’s not a love song, just a beautiful sound,” SASAMI sings in a controlled vocal style that is the opposite of the digital scream of “Skin A Rat’” that she used to start the record. SASAMI closes the circle.
The theme of this record is displayed out in its brilliant album cover. It’s a Japanese folk spirit called Nure-Onna (‘wet woman’ is the translation) that has the head of a woman and the body of a snake. The creature represents femininity and brutality. SASAMI is Nure-Onna on the album cover, and she unleashes that spirit all over the place on her stunning new album. I have referenced a lot of artists in this review, but this record is all SASAMI. It’s an act of originality by an original artist that demands to be heard. –Russ Holsten