Samia Finds Community but Loses Herself on Honey
The Nashville-via-NYC singer-songwriter explores emotion, genre, and experience with a breadth that overshadows her depth on her second LPMusic Reviews Samia
What is honey? It’s oddly challenging to describe the saccharine, gluey substance that humans harvest from bees to sweeten their delicacies, but its inscrutable nature makes it fertile ground for metaphor. To Samia Finnerty, who releases sunny indie rock under her first name, its viscosity is reminiscent of the inebriation: sweet, slow, and maybe a little sticky, causing you to adhere to every person and memory that makes it through the filter. Throughout her releases, Samia taps into the specificity of her own memory to weave elaborate tapestries that are distinct, yet still relatable. Amidst the names of people and places Samia refers to, listeners latch onto the emotions and chart their own webs of names and places. On 2020’s The Baby, Samia accentuated her wit with propulsive indie rock that often betrayed promising depth to her emotions. Now, on her second LP, Honey, Samia steers into alt-folk and pop that gives her songs a broad emotive palette, but at times, the record fails to reach the heights of her previous releases.
Much like The Baby, Honey begins with a sparse track that grows into a full movement laden with complicated emotions. That lead single, “Kill Her Freak Out,” offers all the hallmarks of Samia’s songwriting that fans have come to love: hyperlocal lyrics (“You were next door with Gigi / Cocktails for breakfast / Walking her groceries back to the main house”), gradual builds, and deadpan delivery (“I hope you marry the girl from your hometown / And I’ll fucking kill her / And I’ll fucking freakout”). Even though the lyrical specificity teeters over the line into obfuscation, the centerpiece of “Kill Her Freak Out” is the chorus centered on familiar emotions she feared experiencing in a moment of profound loneliness. The instrumentation, initially centered on an organ, is hypnotic.
With disorienting abruptness, Samia shifts gears on “Charm You,” an acoustic indie folk-rock meditation that could serve as an anthem for keeping it real. She changes things up again on “Pink Balloons,” a two-and-a-quarter minute piano ballad highlighting Samia’s vocal fortitude. Incredibly, the vibe shifts yet again: on “Mad At Me,” Samia teams up with Rostam for throbbing pop production with a feature from Minnesota-based Papa Mbye. While the chorus is entirely too vague to be sufficiently catchy, Samia’s voice suits the memorable production, suggesting that the young upstart has a pop record in her, rife with the emotional complexity that fans of Lorde, Ethel Cain, or even Carly Rae Jepsen have demanded. However, four consecutive, unforeseen tonal shifts is a tall order for any listener, and makes it hard to see her broader aesthetic vision. While Samia’s primary sonic motivator is emotion, it’s difficult to immerse oneself in the emotions when they fluctuate as much as they do both in affect and audio.
Even within songs, Samia will complicate her sound. On “Sea Lions,” Samia sets the mood with a gentle piano ballad before accentuating her voice with additional tracking and the whistle of electronics overhead. Halfway through the track, she transitions to a noisy, eerie dance beat as a text-to-voice automaton recites phrases in rapid succession. The central goodbye to a former lover within the song is detectable, but again the lyrical specificity occludes the message in a song with a peculiar sonic palette. However, the vintage-inspired folk follow-up track “To Me It Was” is an excellent respite: the gentle but flowing indie folk production gives way to an immediately catchy chorus where Samia repeats: “To me it was a good time.” The verses, while, again, laden with specificity, wrap up nicely once Samia breaks into her crystal-clear chorus. When the track fades into a familiar recording from the beginning of The Baby, she yanks on the heartstrings. She plays with emotional weight again on “Breathing Song,” processing harm done unto her in real time.
While Honey’s title track is a charming return to her indie rock roots, the layers of vocals and harmonies play too heavily into Samia’s “community record” concept and flatten what makes her own vocal delivery so special. The record comes to a relatively calm conclusion on “Dream Song,” making for a decent complement to the record’s opener. While Honey presents a diverse offering rife with beautiful moments, the record is haphazard and deemphasizes Samia’s best qualities, especially her wit. She leans into her confessional impulse, which is exciting, but can be lost in translation as the songs mire in the details. The work Samia accomplishes to move between genres is inspiring on one hand and confusing on the other; her aesthetic palette feels noncommittal, and while the diversity suggests a desire not to stay pigeonholed, Samia’s emotional and musical literacy is clearly vast and she has room to explore aesthetics in more depth across more releases. For now, Honey is a confusing step in Samia’s career, one that resembles the quirky randomness of a family scrapbook with the charm almost entirely excised. Where Honey celebrates the diverse community that informs Samia’s experience as a person and an artist, Honey does not necessarily give back, returning an inconsistent set of identities that do not always highlight what makes her a promising artist. Samia instead sinks into the honey like quicksand, encasing her to the point of occlusion.
Devon Chodzin is a critic and urban planner with bylines at Slumber Mag, Merry-Go-Round and Post-Trash. He is currently a student in Philadelphia. He lives on Twitter @bigugly