Review ·

When Jeff Samuel's more melodic tendencies filter into his metallic-rimmed Tejada-like minimalism, his ventures find compelling (and actually hummable) hooks in rich software synth washes and intermittent chirping peaks. Step, Samuel's first artist album, follows play by a who's who deejay list and a string of work for Poker Flat, Spectral, 7th City, and more. Step's strengths expose Samuel as an innovator, building on the minimal structures by which his appreciators recognize him. As a result, the album's occasional chilly temperatures and brittle framework are warmed to the core with brief synth appearances and tempo variations.


A lush feat called "I Think They Are Trying to Say Something" closes the album in chiming tech-house wonderment (it doesn't appear on the vinyl release of Step). Instead of utilizing the disc's last track to bring the work back to earthy stability, "I Think They Are Trying to Say Something" launches Samuel's album back into the stratosphere, with dense wafts of tremolo-tinted synths and a persistent system of plinks and high-hat splashes; it's one of 2006's brightest electronica moments.


With some exceptions ("Right Then and There," "Off the Mark"), Samuel sporadically takes long to develop. The closing track travels to its lofty regions almost immediately. Cuts like "Month 2 Month" struggle under the weight of a tedious buzzing melody that moves as little as possible before Samuel adds sorrowful color in more digital accompaniment. "You Will Never Know" incorporates a looping bit of piano for its busy base before the melody aligns itself entirely with a pop song structure (verse, chorus, verse, bridge). It might call for a little patience, but Step's sheen is layered so that when the liftoff minutes go by, the intricacies that follow are worth another scrupulous listen.





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