Music Features

Remembering Sam Jayne

I was having an ordinary enough Wednesday afternoon when I heard the news that Sam Jayne had died. I didn’t know Sam personally. I never got the chance to see him perform live, and in all honesty, I didn’t even know his career all that well. I feel a bit guilty about that because the Sam Jayne music I have heard—primarily 2005’s Laughter’s Fifth—deserved to be championed more. Sure, we awarded that album a rare 10/10 rating (one of only a handful I would stand behind today) but we could and should have done more. A victim of its relative obscurity, it only placed thirty-nine in our Top 50 Albums round-up for God’s sake.

2005 was a strange old year. Having managed to graduate medical school and have a breakdown in the same summer, the start of my working life forced me to reduce my commitment to No Ripcord significantly. I still devoured a ton of albums that year, though, certainly more than in any year since. And you know what? I’ve revisited Laughter’s Fifth more than the rest of them put together. Illinois by Sufjan Stevens was our number one pick in that end of year review; for me, Laughter’s Fifth wipes the floor with it.

Indeed, the fifteen years since its release have not dulled the power of Laughter’s Fifth. Over the course of 48 flawless minutes, Jayne and his band deliver a hook-laden brand of joyously freewheeling indie rock. It sounds like a collection of gloriously fresh first takes, each bristling with a boundless enthusiasm that forbids any minor errors from tarnishing the end result. I listened to the whole thing again today (three times over) and it is overflowing with special little moments of unbridled fun; moments so magical they make your hairs stand on end.

Perhaps the best example of this is the little instrumental break 1 minute 46 seconds into I’m A Ghost. It’s not particularly complex, nor is it sonically perfect, but there’s just something indescribably brilliant about this ramshackle little passage of music that you sense couldn’t be bettered. No one could improve this humble collection of notes. Sam Jayne and his band captured something truly remarkable in those sessions. It is the sound of a group of musicians totally in sync, fully realizing a set of excellent songs and having a blast in the process.

My heart goes out to those who knew Sam on this desperately sad day. He will be remembered fondly by those who have cherished his wonderful music over the years. And I can say with absolute certainty that I will keep blasting out Laughter’s Fifth at regular intervals for the rest of my days.

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You can read Alan Shulman's original 10/10 review of Laughter's Fifth here.