Curse. Matrix Metals. Flashback Repository. Explorers. Test Icicles. MELT. The Sweethearts. Yoga. Blues Runner. Intense Dudes. Outer Limits Recordings. Sam E. Dangerr. Sam E. Slaughter. Sam Meringue. 2 X Love. Green Crack. Wingdings.
Over his 15-year career, Sam Mehran started a lot of projects and played in a lot of bands. He released everything from pugnacious dance-punk to mesmeric disco loops; unhinged hip-hop beats to perfectly poised pop songs. He left behind a body of work that’s diverse, but never unfocused. As a songwriter, guitarist, producer, and multi-instrumentalist, Sam possessed an instinctive understanding of popular music, able to break down a genre’s formal nuances and stylistic subtleties and remake them in his own image.
Cold Brew is a posthumous collection of instrumental rock music that Sam recorded in Los Angeles between April and May 2018. Compiled under the guidance of Sam’s father, Abbas Mehran, it’s the first time that Sam’s solo music has been released under his own name.
Sam’s early life involved a lot of movement. His parents left their home country, Iran, during the buildup to the revolution of 1979; they first lived in Argentina, then moved to Miami, Florida, where Sam was born in 1985. He began learning piano from the age of four before moving on to guitar, and he started playing in bands after his family relocated again – this time to Adelaide, Australia. When he was 17, Sam – already an incredibly skilled musician – left Australia for New York, then moved to London, where he started the band Test Icicles with Dev Hynes and Rory Attwell.
Within months of forming, Test Icicles had become known for their riotous live shows, while their single “Circle. Square. Triangle” was one of the UK indie scene’s biggest anthems of the time. Their first and only album, 2005’s For Screening Purposes Only, was fizzing with invention and energy, a delirious mash-up of dance-punk, thrash metal, indie-rock, and hip-hop that still sounds remarkably ahead of its time today. Unfortunately, the band didn’t hold the same enthusiasm for their music as their fans did. “We didn’t really expect the band to stick for more than two weeks. Hence the joke name, hence the joke everything,” Sam told The Metro newspaper shortly after the album’s release. A few months later, they split up.
Sam moved back to the US and immersed himself in the underground scene, issuing a number of cassettes, CD-Rs, and vinyl records between 2007 and 2011. This prolific period saw him explore a wide array of styles, from hypnotic beats to pure power pop, under an even wider number of aliases: Flashback Repository, Blues Runner, Explorers, Wingdings, Matrix Metals, Yoga, Outer Limits Recordings, and more. At the time, Sam was reading books about the 20th-century avant-garde and artists who escaped tradition, and his music was equally disinterested in finding a mass audience, usually recorded in an unorthodox, lo-fi style.
Critics took note, with writers like The Wire’s David Keenan describing Sam, alongside artists like James Ferraro and Spencer Clark, as a key figure in an emerging American movement dubbed ‘hypnagogic pop.’ Some of Sam’s finest music from this era was collected on the 2013 Outer Limits Recordings compilation Singles, Demos & Rarities 2007-2010, which demonstrated his raw talent for melodic pop songwriting and guitar work that was virtuosic without sounding pompous. It also captured his outsider’s attitude and irreverent sense of humor when recording – if Sam found something funny, that generally meant it was a good idea musically, too.
During the 2010s, Sam remained active as a collaborator, writing and producing with SSION, Katie Rush, Puro Instinct, Samantha Urbani, LA Vampires, and more, as well as putting out a handful of jokey side projects with his friend and frequent collaborator Zak Mering and reissuing a lost Outer Limits Recordings album, Birds, Bees, Babys, Bacteria. But he stopped releasing solo music of his own, having little desire to tour, use social media, or play the typical games of the record business.
Prior to his death in July 2018, Sam had recorded an EP with Fatal Jamz singer Marion Belle (later put out under the artist name MELT) and a currently unreleased third record with Katie Rush. Sam’s memory was also immortalized on songs by Weyes Blood (“Picture Me Better”, from 2019’s Titanic Rising) and CMON (“Sam”, from 2020’s Confusing Mix of Nations), while an EP he recorded in 2010 with The Sweethearts (a revolving group of artists that included Tyler Thacker, Zak Mering, and others) finally saw a release.
One project that he had been working on in the background, however, was Cold Brew. Before he died, Sam had recorded over one hundred songs for the album, a selection of which are presented here as they were recorded, without any additional production or remixing. Its cover art is based on a design that Sam had mocked up himself, utilizing his taste for brash colors and confusing visuals, with the back cover bearing the word ‘Milk’ in a font that had been rearranged from a trashy biography of the 70s teen-pop band Slik.
Cold Brew was always intended to be an instrumental album, driven not by Sam’s voice but his effortlessly hooky guitars, warm, golden sound, and puckish attitude. It hits hard, using dry, driving sonics without much reverb or washy ambience. It’s informed by rock’s history but not reverent towards it, an attitude that defined a lot of Sam’s work: “Artists who slowly waste away in the neutered, purist, cobweb-laden perspectives of retroactive xeroxed fantasies have forgotten the virtue of the present moment,” Sam once wrote in a manifesto for an unrealized project with CMON’s Josh da Costa. “Artists and musicians who do not undertake a knowledge of the history of music are equally stupid.”
Sam was usually very critical of his own work, with a tendency to second guess himself. But when speaking with friends, he talked about how freeing it was to make Cold Brew: to keep the songs short, to not dwell on production, to not think about his voice, to simply enjoy himself. With Cold Brew’s release, both longtime fans and newcomers to Sam Mehran’s world can enjoy his whimsical, wonderful legacy, too.