SAM LEVIN is Only 16 and He’s Already a Better Songwriter than You

A few months ago, New York singer-songwriter Sam Levin came through our fair city on his East Coast Coffeehouse Tour. Sadly, I didn’t know who he was back then and only discovered his music in the past month, so I missed the show. However, assuming he’ll return in the coming months, I’ve been hard at work learning his songs and taking in his unique acoustic/electronic sound – a sound that harkens to Bright Eyes at his most beautiful, but with much more traditionally pleasant vocals than the bizarre croon of Oberst. Today, I present his latest album to you, the loyal ROP readers, so you too can prepare… and then together we can urge Sam to return.

With a sound dubbed by some as “folktronica”, Levin blends layered electronic sounds with a folk aesthetic to create easy listening pop tunes that soothe the soul. When I listen to his latest album, I Am, I hear music similar to the work of Ben Gibbons (The Postal Service and Death Cab for Cutie). I hear Sufjan Stevens. I hear the ballads of bands like Imagine Dragons. I hear the folk music of local Philly musicians like Damien DeRose and Denison Witmer. Most of all, I hear a unique and earnest voice that is reminiscent to a variety of great artists while still standing alone as something all its own. Sam Levin’s music brings out the best qualities of all of these musicians and more to create a beautiful blend of pop, folk, and electronic music. It’s simple, but not simplistic; and, therein lies the beauty.

The songs on the 11 track album all feature a variety of sounds and instruments, all of which are performed by the teenage troubadour; playing a ton of instruments and recording his own great tunes at such a young age are other similarities he has to the aforementioned Connor Oberst. His talent is rivaled only by his ear for a great melody. The songs are constructed with the talent and understanding of an expert, veteran songwriter. In other words, Sam Levin is the type of prodigy that your grandma would say “has a very old soul”. Mature songwriting really is a hallmark of each of the tracks, which is where the names like Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens come most to mind. He constructs the songs expertly, while also putting incredibly deep lyrics to them. At 16 years old, most of us were smoking joints, trying to get through the school day, and/or heading to baseball practice. Levin is probably still doing a lot of these types of things too, but he’s managed to also find the time to home his craft to the level of a seasoned member of the music scene.

While the overall feel of the album is akin to a beautiful scene, there are some tracks that feel a bit distinct and different. Personal favorite is “First World Problems”, which feels a bit like a Ben Folds song being performed by The Strokes, rather than the folksy electronic tracks on the album that are more comparable to the artists mentioned above. It’s fun and playful lyrics are able to convey deep understanding of the world we live in, while remaining upbeat and easy. It’s truly the mark of a solid songwriter to be able to balance both weight and catchiness in the construction of a pop song.

Fans of bands like Imagine Dragons can stand side by side with traditional folk fans, top 40 pop listeners, and indie rockers at a Sam Levin show. The songs are just so expertly crafted that it’s easy to forget how early in his musical journey this young man is. At only 16, we know his touring schedule may be a bit light and his appearances few and far between. But if we ask nicely, maybe we’ll get to see another poster like the one below with new dates and another opportunity to see the young Mr. Levin in the City of Brotherly Love.

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