Album Review: Keeplove?’s Northernways

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written by Connor Hayes

Some artists go the length of their career without making a statement. Others are content to pump out what they know in their hearts to be vapid melodies, in the hopes of appealing to the maximum amount of listeners. Luckily for us, Keeplove?, otherwise known as David Samano, doesn’t fall into either of these categories. With his latest release, the Michigan native breathes more life into a subgenre of his own creation known as folkstep, a relatively untouched style (with the exception of artists like Vibe Street) that infuses acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies into curated beats, essentially becoming the next evolutionary step in Americana.
On his most recent album Northernways, Samano flexes both his mixing and composition talents, starting strong with the opening track “Holy Water”, a rambling guitar led melody that gives way to a metaphorical lesson in exercising and spreading love: “we need the water, more than we know, its true”. The following track, “Love is a Different Sound”, channels both G Jones and Desert Dwellers as cosmic synths meet wobble effects. Samano holds nothing back, interweaving a bright, flamenco-style guitar melody while going beyond his characteristic baritone vocals up to a tenor register that complements the harmony perfectly.
Having collaborated with him on “Space Jazz”, it comes as no surprise that Super Best label mate Michal Menert makes an appearance on Northernways, in the form of “Love We Gained”. However, with the exception of backing vocals and strings, this is fully a Keeplove? track. The aforementioned organ seamlessly synthesizes with Samano’s soulful baritone and his acoustic guitar. The track’s outro is tranquil, with Samano’s coo teasing a call and answer with STS9-esque spacey keys.
“Live Dangerously” is yet another track in which Samano shows his diversity as an artist: its what occurs when you mix Howlin’ Wolf style blues vocals and guitar, with glitch hop rhythms. A very ambitious composition, but Samano pulls it off. Then comes what is one of the most soulful and haunting songs on the album, “Michigan”, with Hannah Samano featured on vocals. It comes out of the eponymous state wilderness like an Ottawan or Chippewa chant: David and Hannah sing a duet with an accompanying simple guitar and an aggressive beat that is not so much pastoral as primal. One would have to search far and wide to find a song that so sincerely mixes both past heritage and modern day production.
In this latter part of the album, Samano delves further into the emotional spectrum with “After Dark”, another simple and heartfelt track that seems to be his take on the Johnny Cash ballad “No Other”. “Hurt Somehow”, an exercise in bass/wobble factor, is a similarly honest track where Samano admits “We’ve all gotten hurt somehow”…thus we are all human, and should try to be compassionate, understanding, and kind.
The album closes with “OneOneOneOne”, a trail song for some dystopian futuristic Western film—not a criticism so much a comment on his energy and vision when it comes to composition. The defining take away from Northernways is not simply that Samano can more than hold his own as an artist. He goes so far as to incorporate his heritage, his culture, his identity, and that of his region into cohesive until that is sonically spellbinding and wholly unlike anything else out there. Like his influences, he has become a pioneer on the edges of sound.
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