So I was so bloodpumped about the new John K Samson EP, City Route 85, that I couldn’t help but expect to be let down when I heard it in it’s entirety. And, I’m not even going to preface this with a letdown, this is a great little album. There is no better proof of Samson’s growth as a songwriter than the album’s final track, “Cruise Night.” While the first two tracks largely seem to be from Samson’s own viewpoint, which is fine, poetic and precise, the last track shows Samson’s most well rounded and believable character study yet. While I like the ongoing tales of Virtute the Cat, and could feel the deafness of Elsabet, there were many examples- I’m thinking of the stockbroker in “Relative Surplus Value,” or the writer in “Uncorrected Proofs,” where the characters of Samsons songs were undeveloped and ended up sound like Samson in costume.
Part of this was Samson’s inability to ditch his own poetic lyricism. This makes sense: If you’re a writer who can write well, and, even better, one who has developed a recognizable prose style, it’s difficult to imagine tinkering with that. But that is exactly what makes “Cruise Night” such a delight; the extent to which Samson ditches all flourish and emerges himself in the goal of this song. As someone who used to get the same inexplicable pleasure from driving around, for hours, just listening to music and wasting gas, a song that celebrates such activity is bound to resonate. But even if you’ve never done this, Samson’s narrator will have you wishing you could. The excitement when Samson sings “Dude, just make it happen,” and the adrenaline when he claims “I want to rock the RPMs between the reds and greens,” make me smile but also make me believe every word he’s singing. Samson just invests so much in the kids who inhabit this song.
Even the song’s last line, “We’ll drive a while in one direction, then we’ll turn around” which could be patronizing coming from anyone but Samson here sounds like simple fact, delivered with warmth and premature nostalgia. That’s just what cruise night is.
I can’t wait for volumes 2 through six hundred and twelve.