The music video for ‘Free’ is full of fading light, sandy beaches and rumpled bed sheets. A disembodied hand reaches out before disappearing off-screen and into darkness. This niche, pastel-toned aesthetic of heartbreak sets the tone for Sasami’s self-titled debut album.
It would be easy to dismiss the record as superficial; just a pretty, sad thing. Certainly, there are times when the flatness of Sasami Ashworth’s voice starts to get grating. An impassive, no smiling persona looks great on screen, and struggles to breathe life into songs such as the monotone ‘I Was a Window’.
But as the album unfolds, it’s clear that there is much more at play. An effervescent, elusive character, SASAMI is a candid diary entry or regretfully sent text message.
Ashworth deftly reorders the credentials of shoegaze - honey-smooth vocals colliding with dense riffage - by adding her own deadpan, darkly sweet signature. Hazy, textured tones, reaching out from a dream world are achieved through analogue tape-recording.
Embodying the canon of melancholic solo musicians, there’s a touch of Elliot Smith in double-tracked ‘Pacify my Heart’ and ‘Turned Out I was Everyone’. Fleshed out and tactile, it is here that Sasami really shines as a songstress. The later seems to break away completely, presenting a jagged, staccato drum beat and glittering, transcendent synth. “Thought I was the only one, turns out I was everyone” she whispers, half jubilant, half defeated. I read it as Ashworth befriending an ex’s new girlfriend who turns out to be her doppelganger.
This cryptic storytelling, orchestrated through half-conversations with a missing partner, don’t quite yield the impact of celebrated contemporaries like Nilüfer Yanya. However, as a first attempt, the album is a strong effort which exemplifies the artist’s dexterity as an accomplished, multi-instrumentalist composer. There’s a reason why Pitchfork awarded ‘Calluous’ ‘Best New Track’ when it emerged last year.
After working with an endlessly rotating cast of musicians including Cherry Glazerr, Soko, Vagaban, Curtis Harding, Wild Nothing, Hand Habits, Dirt Dress, as well as scoring films and commercials on top of her job as a devoted music teacher, Sasami’s star-studded resume has prepared her well for a solo career. A few friends stop by to lend a hand: Beach Fossil’s Dustin Payseur and LA local Devendra Banhart, but really, she doesn’t need them to stand out.