Sam Burton = Department of Eagles x (Nick Drake + Jackson C. Frank)
Sam Burton used to sneak sessions on an off-limits guitar while his stepdad was at work. He credits The Beach Boys with turning him on to music and participated in a Velvet Underground tribute show with his killer shoe-gaze band, The Circulars. As if he wasn’t cool enough, the singer-songwriter is now issuing an EP that is being released on tape.
Until Returning, the aforementioned EP, is a progression—stone-cold evidence of Burton’s artistic ascendence. With melody as its bedrock and acoustics its emphasizer, the record plays as easily as the best of its predecessors. (Think Five Leaves Left meets Songs of Leonard Cohen.) However sonically languid, Burton is not aimless; to the contrary, he arrives more realized and structured than ever before.
The tracks—all 11 of them—are brief but impactful, like a glimpse of broken sunlight amid dead weather. A song like “Forfeit The Wreath” thaws, maybe even warms, and then vanishes, its residue a votive melancholia. At times, Burton’s voice takes flight, like a subdued Tim Buckley,
Until Returning is a return in and of itself—to tape and the lost art of listening. With the advent of iTunes, the purchase and gleaning of an album in full has been rendered obsolete, instead postulating the idea that we filter our anthologies and cherry-pick the art. In this light, Burton’s EP is not only welcome (Until Returning has already sold out of its first edition) but supremely gratifying. From “I’m Going Back” to “The Day Turns,” from the title song to the instrumental “Prelude,” the tape is seamless and doesn’t warrant a skip button.
Burton has come a long way since his guitar-swiping days, his days of youth and learning. Most notably, he has developed the capacity to take risks, the greatest of which is the ability to edit and trim down the work to cuts that pierce the soul. Whether solo or flanked by friends, digital or analog, he is worthy of many returns to come. –Cassidy McCraney
Burton's own Bandcamp page tags his style as alternative but to my ancient ears this is singer-songwriter. Think Tim Buckley and Nick Drake. I must confess I'm not the first reviewer to peg him in that light. Another threw in Leonard Cohen. All great references in any event.
The tape offers ten selections-if you count the brief "Prelude" that welcomes the listener. None of the songs drag on and are swift and direct in their subtleness. His voice, while not outstanding, is more than adequate for these songs. He is accompanied by acoustic guitar and makes the most of the sparseness of the arrangements.
The meat here is the songwriting which is outstanding. Burton uses just enough familiarity to hook you in while vocally flowing over the edges of the melody. There is not a mediocre song in the bunch and stylistically he keeps it interesting enough given the variation of each track.
While there are ten tracks, they are short and hence this is an e.p. worth of Burton. Available only on tape, as it was recorded, this is a talent to reckon with. Sam Burton is my favorite singer-songwriter thus far in 2016- and the year is nearly over. Get this by all means.
- Bob Zilli, Cassette Gods
*despite the reviewers insistence we at chthonic maintain that Until Returning is a full-length record.