Sam Hale’s Somewhere Between Love & Hate is a highly personable EP that somehow still retains an air of mystery about it. After multiple listens, I can’t tell if I’m any closer to understanding the essence of Sam Hale but he really makes me believe that I might be. There is a sense of disappointment and loneliness in his voice that is completely relatable. Because of this, Sam shines brightest when the production is stark and sounds almost as if he’s sitting in an empty room. This EP, unfortunately, doesn’t always play to these strengths and comes up short when it tries for a more pop-based mainstream approach. There is undoubtedly a great, confessional lo-fi record here waiting to bust out.
Sam Hale recently returned to his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, and this homecoming permeates every inch of his music. I can’t speak for Sam, nor can I say to be an expert on his lyrics but upon Somewhere Between Love & Hate’s release in October, he stated that it was a deep look into his recent sacrifices and shift in energy. There is definitely a melancholic, world-weariness tone throughout that Hale conveys extremely well. Tracks like “The Tourist” and “City of Cards” sound like they come from a man who doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere. His delivery on the latter song is particularly devastating. I couldn’t help but recall my own past shortcomings, dwindling confidence, and that stinging desire to just run anywhere as fast as I could. Needless to say, I greatly appreciate the man’s honesty.
Although the production is strong and well arranged, it’s almost too glossy and often threatens to dull Hale’s rawest emotions. I’m curious to know what this would have sounded like with a more minimalist approach. You know…just Sam, a piano and maybe a bottle of whiskey. It’s also clear that Hale is aiming for a big audience but is much better at singing haunting ballads than anything remotely upbeat. To me, “Supernatural” is the only real misfire because of this. On paper, it’s a well-written song with a fat and juicy bass line that should make you want to dance, but it doesn’t. The reason is Hale isn’t giving the track the energy, charisma and charm it deserves. Turn it into something with a little more aggression and it could have possibly been an anthem instead.
A lot Sam Hale’s songs have a The National meets early Coldplay vibe to them, that I think he could use to his advantage. You might argue that people are bound to get tired of listening to sad-sack melodies that are intended to induce existential quandaries but trust me, there is a niche out there that goes deeper than any depressive episode. Hale’s music is filled with humanity and I personally wouldn’t want to see that hidden behind modern techniques that are usually used to hide MANY artists lack of musical talent. Not only is Hale talented but you just know that he has lived and therefore has suffered. He also smartly doesn’t show his whole hand, thereby forcing you to want to go back into his world and keep listening. You may never figure out who he is, but there are occasions throughout Somewhere Between Love and Hate that you may learn a little about yourself.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Mike Milito