Sammy’s first longplayer sounds so much like Pavement that the resemblance hits like a yard of concrete. That’s not really such a bad thing, though; the duo of guitarist/bassist Luke Wood (a former member of Washington DC’s Soulside who didn’t join Girls Against Boys) and singer/guitarist/pianist Jesse Hartman shares that band’s musical adventurousness as well as its particular post-punk musical style. Sammy buries a catchy melody beneath the surface dissonance of “Hi Fi Killers,” and “Rudy” is an off-kilter punk song complete with slightly pinched vocals and a sense of sonic drama. The rest of Debut Album is similarly derivative, but few who hear the appealingly fractured pop will be able to muster serious objections.
Kings of the Inland Empire offers more of the same. On “Inland Empire,” Sammy mixes chugging, buzzing guitars with world-weary vocals; “Cracked Up” also evokes Pavement’s style. If not quite as strong as the first album, the EP is good enough, and “Teen Tour” offers some hints about where this band is going.
Sammy then signed to DGC (Wood was, at the time, an executive at the company) and recorded Tales of Great Neck Glory, a more distinctive effort, using three different drummers in the studio. Reference points are all over the punk map — from the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth — but the musical voice here is Sammy’s own. And on atmospheric songs like “Blue Oyster Bay” and the quiet “Anything,” the band expands its emotional range without leaving behind the art-damaged take on pop that makes its first album effective. Powerful and loads of fun.