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Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is SASAMI’s masterful sophomore release, Squeeze.
In her relatively short solo career, SASAMI’s proven herself to be a true renaissance woman. On her self-titled debut in 2019, this quality’s something that separated her from droves of same-sounding indie rock. Sasami Ashworth’s broad range of novel emotional depths and heights in her collection of downtempo, shoegaze-imbued tracks — combined with some serious and undeniable technical chops — landed her a growing base of fans, critical praise, sold-out shows and an opening set touring with The Breeders.
Though she’s demonstrated her far-reaching range since her Cherry Glazerr days, on her forthcoming record Squeeze, she knows no bounds. Due out February 25 via Domino, the classically trained musician and french hornist tapped into a palpably more aggressive force to create the record; heavy metal was, perhaps surprisingly, one of Ashworth’s central influences on her sophomore release. Earlier this year, she explained to Rolling Stone that the many frustrating experiences she and her band experienced while touring fostered a budding hostility, and how, in turn, she noticed herself instinctively exploring new performance impulses.
“I’ve always toured with an all-femme band, and that can be this physical battle of convincing the sound people you’re worthy of their care and attention,” she said. “You’re constantly being told to turn your amps down. So it’s this very literal manifestation of, like, the more I feel I’m made to be small, I just turn the amp up and my voice gets more aggressive.”
There was a time when Ashworth remembers being put off by metal, citing her encounters with some of mainstream metal’s violent or misogynistic lyrics as justifiably unappealing. But she soon found the metal community was more rich than what she’d once assumed, and became absorbed by the bounty of technical prowess its music harnessed. While researching her family’s Korean and Japanese history and culture, Ashworth was also captivated by the Japanese yōkai folk spirit called Nure-onna, who is depicted in the album’s cover art and serves as a protagonist for the record. Nure-onna, which translates to “wet woman,” is a vampiric deity with the head of a beautiful woman and the body of a snake.
“She’s a really good symbol for the energy of the songs, which is like, feeling hot and being violent,” Ashworth explained. “I’m also a Cancer sign, so the fact that she’s a water bitch, I’m like, ‘Yes, this is my bitch right here! This fucking water snake, yes!’”
Accordingly, if you’re expecting the captivating chill-out sesh we received on SASAMI, instead expect the album opener and lead single “Skin a Rat” — which features some delightfully unexpected “gang vocals” from comedian Patti Harrison and Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko — to jump out of your speakers and throttle your unassuming neck. The record’s title track, which features the melodic hardcore band No Home, is a manic drive-by frenzy that will have your bones pleading for the nearest mosh pit.
But it’s not just aggression, blood-pumping metal and unadulterated rage on Squeeze. Its adrenaline-fueled outbursts are only made sweeter by the intense contrast found in the record’s more tender moments. “Call Me,” has a beautiful, melodic hook, soft guitar strums and resembles the highlights of Ashworth’s past work, while album closer “Not a Love Song,” and the cello-centric prelude that precedes it, form as heartfelt and moving of a ballad as they come.
According to a statement on the record, “SASAMI stumbled upon stories of Nure-onna and was immediately drawn to the water creature’s multiplicitous nature. According to legend, the deity is feminine and noble, yet powerful and vicious enough to brutally destroy victims with her blood-sucking tongue.” On Squeeze, SASAMI breathes life into her muse, embodies Nure-onna’s complexities and, in the process, shows us her broadest range yet.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.
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