For those of you who are regular listeners of Atlanta rock radio or well acquainted with the local rock scene, it’s quite possible you’ve heard some of the music created by Sean and Sami Michelsen, even if you don’t know them by name. Their long-running project, Alchemy, has been featured regularly on 99x and 97.1 The River, and Sami earned additional notoriety by winning Season Three of the local singing competition, Sing For Your Life. Indeed, it’s fair to say that over the past few years, the duo has turned themselves into a local powerhouse, one that nimbly combines Sean’s fluid guitar work with Sami’s golden vocals.
This year, however, the Michelsens decided to try their hand at a new project, teaming up with longtime friend and SAE Insitute graduate Bill Zimmerman to form the electropop trio Reptile Room. For the past few months, the three-piece have been holed up in Zimmerman’s bedroom studio, writing and recording their self-titled debut, which became available online on Friday. Overall, the four-song EP is a significant step away from Alchemy’s driving, radio-ready rock, although the Michelsen’s penchant for polished songwriting and infectious hooks remains firmly intact.
“We all think it (the EP) sounds like stuff we like, but we also don’t like what EACH OTHER likes, if that makes sense”, the group writes in an email. “Obviously Sami sings, but we collectively do every part and give input on every aspect. We all get in the room and wait until the vibe creeps, and then we creep on the vibe.”
Speaking of vibes, opener “Lights” is a triumphant earworm — its deep bass drum hits and playful synths giving way to a head-bobbing verse in which Sami muses darkly: “Are you with that girl? / Is she in your bed? / How’d she get herself / into your head?” Elsewhere, “Home” weaves together deep 808’s, delayed synths, and trap hi-hats into a groove that’s gleaming and seductive, while “Waste” seems to take its cues from Lorde’s latest with flowing melodies and sleek atmospherics creating a moody canvas for Sami to work her magic.
EP closer, “Fading,” reminds me of something that could have ended up on Calvin Harris’ cutting room floor, combining a lustful verse with a sticky chorus that straddles the thin line between self-affirmation and bitter heartbreak: “I can fake it / but it’ll hurt you more / I wanna feel it / feel the way I did before / we both know that I can’t stay here / in your twisted heart / and I know I cannot carry / all your broken parts,” Sami proclaims over soft piano notes and a steady bass drum.
While they all share a similar vibe and occupy a comparable headspace, there is a diversity among these tracks that is intriguing and captivating. At times it sounds they could have been written by four different groups, and and that’s a large part of why I find this EP so appealing. There’s a lot here to take in, and it makes me anxious to hear what the group can do for an encore.