Sam Eastgate’s short musical journey has already yielded brilliant results. Scholars of the brief nu-rave scene know he started out as the singer in Late of the Pier – a cult dance-punk act that cut one record then disbanded. Then came Soft Hair, a project with indie prince Connan Mockasin. Alongside his solo work, Eastgate has already given us a unique patchwork across the musical landscape. GENE is the second album released under his LA Priest imprint and a product of three years of hard graft.
GENE is the name of Eastgate’s self-constructed drum machine, an instrument used throughout this album. His commitment to musical isolationism for the LA Priest name is admirable – He claims not to have listened to any new music during the creative process, and composed it alone across multiple locations, including studio set-ups in his south Wales homeland and California. This love of solitude and introspection are the dominant moods here.
The lead single is Rubber Sky, a composition in three movements which reflects the overall course of GENE. It’s Eastgate’s ode to solo production, him repeating the words “Here, I don’t know where I’m going – On my own. On my own.” When the clean guitar line breaks through, the song truly introduces itself, a motif Eastgate uses to great effect throughout. The coda is the best part, with that big guitar solo keeping it pumping to the last second.
What Moves is arguably the best song on GENE and certainly the most commercial. The hook being used plentifully for a head-nodding slice of quirky electro-funk, that clamps an earworm to your brain in seconds. A rarely lucid set of words accompany the bedrock of easy rhythms for an accessible take on the often-challenging content on this album.
Vocally, Eastgate takes cues from legends such as Prince and Thom Yorke, alongside contemporaries like Yeasayer’s Chris Keating. His post-production twiddling will melt away any accusation of being derivative, though. Often, Eastgate will use his voice as another instrument, opening up the possibilities for sounds that are almost post-human. Musically speaking, Open My Eyes is something the Super Furry Animals would be happy to call their own, perhaps a nod to Eastgate’s Welsh roots. Gruff Rhys would be proud!
GENE is also a wonderfully eccentric album, with many great moments, soundscapes and vocal collages to tempt multiple plays. He knows when enough is enough but lets a nice groove run for an extra minute if it’s worth it. There are slinky, dance tunes, and unorthodox experimentation, but not much in between. Eastgate proves he can do slow and sad with the downtempo sounds on Sudden Thing, but while this is a fleeting visit to his darker moods, it’d be nice to stay there a little longer.
The last few songs are where we’re treated to the total extent of Eastgate’s unconventional side. While this adds depth to the album, the end has no final flourish, and casual or more pop-oriented listeners will feel that a lot of questions are left unanswered. As the dulled embers of Ain’t No Love Affair turn to ash and the album closes its eyes, you may find yourself asking wait, is that it?
GENE is a marvellous, quirky compendium. It begs to be listened to as a whole, with strong thematic vibes from front to back. Eastgate’s talent goes on for miles, and we’ve not seen anywhere near his full potential yet. His LA Priest moniker will likely be synonymous with quality and invention in years to come. Get in on the ground level with GENE for an exciting journey.