Samuel Driver, otherwise known as Samuel Proffitt, is an electronic artist with a PhD in Russian literature. Russian literature, in fact, has, arguably, very much shaped his view of his respective genre, and all round writing approach to it:
“I like dance music, and I appreciate it. … But it just wasn’t fulfilling, and there wasn’t enough storytelling. There’s just something in the soul of the [Russian] writing that was so different from anything else that I had ever encountered”.
“My first E.P. was ‘Blue Notebook No. 10,’ and I wrote my honors thesis on a Russian absurdist named Daniil Kharms. … Arguably his most well-known work is called ‘Blue Notebook.’ And it’s about the dissolution of character, the dissolution of story, of all of the normative ideals of storytelling”.
What’s more, he perhaps has a depth in taste unrivalled by many in the genre, being a fan of jazz legend, Miles Davis, and “obsessed” with electronic singer, James Blake.
Events like losing his university roommate, dying after a three month coma, and breaking up with his girlfriend all on the same day, have also shaped his musical and emotional outlook. Perhaps what he calls the “absurdity” of that overarching six month period is actually a nod, in his life, towards the overt drama contained in the works of Kharms?
The new EP, The Grey Notebook, was released on Friday, October 7. He says the “production line is leaps and bounds over the previous one. The writing and the production is more complex and a little more elevated”.
Proceedings begin with “Andre”, which washes over the listener. It’s quite calming, but seems rooted in melancholy. Then the drum claps, lending extra mood. The almost falsetto vocals give it a sophisticated, soulful edge. The midpoint is dynamic, adding to that moody feel and making it more atmospheric. An elaborate ring out is much like the opening, perfect symmetry.
“Never The Same”, featuring Khai, has piano opening it. The vocal harmonies here in this one are quite satisfying. There’s a hint of industrial percussion in this one, mixing both electronic and live, organic elements for a curious arrangement. The question in the lyrics, of “do you love me?”, perhaps helping simulate heartbreak, should the answer to the question be no. Is the industrial feel conveying the cold feel of potential heartbreak?
“Drown”, featuring Skylr, features more piano. This time grave and bleak. What’s more, the opening vocals are chopped, like switching a toggle on and off. This is layered over the main vocals, as the backdrop tinkles yet conveys a degree of finality. A combination of this sample and main vocal melody sees the track’s end.
Childlike naiveté begins “Sladky, Pt. 2”. It’s like someone baring all, their inner child and all their vulnerabilities. Drum machine gives this one a certain harder edge, as if to convey the more steely of human emotions, like the ability to endeavour for better. Flourishes end this one, a cacophony of beauty rather than that of loud, brash and ugly.
Closing is “Глубина (Depth)”, featuring Наадя. It’s another piano driven one, the almost signature bleak sound established during the course of the EP. The piano rings with particular clarity, but the way the vocals, pained and impassioned, dance over them almost mutes their power. Is this the conveying of interruption in life, proceedings changing upon the turn of a sixpence? Tinkling, cathartic piano flies with grace, uninterrupted, before an abrupt, rude, end.
The EP, looking overall, certainly starts and ends well, and reasonably strong in its midpoint. You could say similar things about the content of “Andre” within itself. That perfect symmetry of how it rings in, and rings out, is quite satisfying. Then “Never The Same” seems like the human race as both mechanical and cold, vibrant and living. Those industrial elements perhaps answering the question of “do you love me?”, the chilling heartbreak when, as said, told no.
“Sladky, Pt. 2”, furthermore, has childlike naiveté and the hard industrial drum, the latter representative of the steely endeavour in grown man and woman, all in the same song. Closer “Глубина (Depth)” is quite clever, too. How the vocals dance over the piano work are, in turn, representative of, perhaps, of the interruptions of life. You’re in the middle of something, perhaps the culmination of all your life’s work, and something comes and you’re then knocked off course.
Middle track, “Drown”, isn’t too bad, neither. It’s bleak finality, aswell as the combination of chopped and sampled plus main vocal melody, makes for interesting listening.
Samuel Proffitt seems to have hit upon a quite reliable formula, a signature sound, whereby there’s a real cohesion to all of the songs. Even with the two featured cameos, there’s no real departure thematically from the EP. Sometimes such features jut out, not really sitting well with the overall sound. Samuel Proffitt’s The Grey Notebook EP can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson