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“Down,” Sam Huber’s New Album, Reviewed

Sam Huber
Sam Huber’s “Down”

 

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” said Sir Isaac Newton, the man who ‘discovered’ gravity. In other words, what goes up must come down, while it’s also difficult to see the ups in life if we ignore the downs: ups and downs are part of life, and part of art. Sam Huber has perfectly understood this with his two latest releases since the new albums which are now populating his soulfully funkified universe are titled “UP” and “DOWN”– in an incidental Newtonian twist, Huber has already had an album called “Gravity-Insanity.”

Even though the Finnish artist didn’t intend on having the project to be a double album, “DOWN,” which features plenty of funky tracks, is his latest work and the follow-up/companion album to the recently released and more soul-oriented “UP.” Twin doesn’t necessarily mean identical: “DOWN” doesn’t have the vintage quality of “Up,” and if it promises a darker approach, it’s far from being depressing music: it’s not because you go down that you should escape the fun and the funk. “‘DOWN’ is where you get Down,” Huber notes. “It’s a landscape that happens on the dance floor, on the downbeat. You might say this album explores the darker side of Future Funk; it’s quite a bit heavier, musically and lyrically, especially compared to the more lighter and romantic songs on ‘UP.'”

The nine tracks, that Sam Huber describes as “Future Funk,” put a post-modern spin on the fundamentals of funk while sounds and beats are earthbound and interstellar all at once. That’s why no one should expect an album of classic funk. This is a more challenging approach but still accessible while blending musical touchstones from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s with modern elements that belong to hip-hop rhythms, trap beats, and beyond. And if you wonder how a white man from Finland’s Helsinki could accomplish that, you have to know that Huber has had a sustainable music career for 24 years and is a star in his country. After listening to a few songs, it is clear that his flexible but mostly deep baritone perfectly fits into the genre.

Over the course of nine numbers, the Nordic soul maestro gives us an impressive demonstration of his powerhouse as a singer and songwriter, with the help of his producer/frequent co-writer and Brooklyn-based Tomás Doncker. Backed by the ever-present True Groove All-Stars with special co-conspirators Bill Laswell and original funkateers Michael “Kidd Funkadelic” Hampton and Amp Fiddler along for the ride, Huber and Doncker are exploring possibilities that were still unearthed, excavating a new world of grooves that go from only a star-shaped pair of sunglasses away from being a lost Bootsy Collins track, to the dance floor, outer space and back.

Opening track “Trespassing on the Surface” sets the tone with a touch of weirdness, unexpected soul-funk textures, and Huber’s monumental voice. “I’d Rather Be” is a sweaty-hot dancefloor, while the logical follow-up, “Be with You,” has a lot of horn-fueled old soul with a multi-voiced warm chorus, digging deep into grooves. The funky bass lines and grooves have a constant presence on the album, like on the Prince-reminiscent “You’ll Survive,” which probably has one of the most daring electric guitar solos of the album. The Bowie-sque “Straight in Your Eyes” – although this is not the only song of the album that plays with Bowie’s somber tones and accents – showcases Huber’s deep baritone, which exhibits a large range, even going to falsetto throughout the album. “My destiny,” laments Huber during another funky number while “Love Joy” marches to more industrial beats in a Prince-meets-Depeche-Mode track. “Hit It and Quit It” is an exercise of hypnotic funky psychedelia, while the track “Friends” ends the album on an optimistic note.

In spite of the previous references to Bowie or Prince, “Down” is not a nostalgic album. As a matter of fact, Sam Huber calls it “a time machine but with a modern twist.” The album has a fearless hybrid sound that never feels forced while it defies categories with a bold attitude. Every time you try to class it either in the funk or the soul box, it escapes with a twist, rearranges textures and beats while breaking boundaries between genres. Meanwhile, despite the dark themes in the lyrics – the pandemic, climate change, alcoholism, co-dependency, and depression – the music is uplifting and will make your body move at any detour.

“Down” is available for streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud, and, in a truly old-school Funk move, it will be released with “UP” as a double vinyl LP called “UP & DOWN” on New York City’s True Groove Records next year.

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