Comfort in Doubt, the second full-length from Portland avant-garde three-piece Sama Dams, sings with the keen cry of innocence lost. With the first track "My Ears Are Ringing," an impossibly catchy and sparse masterpiece of glitch R&B, the listener embarks on a journey through darkness akin to the trip audiences took with Radiohead's OK, Computer. Striking the fine balance between edgy experimentation and caramel sweet pop, this uncompromising trio drives into the desert with only an unerring musical compass to guide them.
The band is straightforward about the challenges surrounding their sophomore effort. "We were very busy between constant touring schedules and juggling personal lives, which resulted in a lull for writing new material," says drummer Chris Hermsen. And yet, the time scarcity that is a stumbling block for many bands on their second album may have opened the door to creativity from an unforeseen source—Lisa Adams, organist, vocalist, and partner to frontman Sam Adams.
While Lisa had been collaborating musically with Adams since they moved to Portland, Oregon in 2010, the new album marks her first foray into songwriting. After recording and touring the album No Vengeance, she stepped away from a full-time career teaching music to devote more energy to the band. The shift was undoubtedly fruitful for the band—the cutting cynicism of her ingeniously hooky "Dirty Work" belies her inexperience, and the sweetly soaring melody of songs like "Maggie" provide a counterpoint to Sam's angular style.
Whether introducing a song or selling tee shirts after the show, the band shows a good natured and Mid-western charm that rarely accompanies the kind of moody, boundary-pushing rock that Sama Dams makes. Hailing from Indiana, Ohio, and Iowa, the band has been at the forefront of a movement in Portland's music scene away from twee chamber pop and toward something more expressive. What is striking in their music and in their performance is that nothing is added for effect; there is the sense of an exploratory process that is occurring before our eyes and around our ears. And nothing is more exciting than discovery.