The dominant lyrical hook in Trips opener “80 West” goes "I've been away for so long," and it’s an apt one. This is just Samiam’s third full-length in a dozen years, a pace that even the casual fan could recognize as slowed from the band’s going-all-in era when they frantically released five studio albums between 1990 and 1997. Now firmly ensconced in their part-time status, Samiam sound right at home on Trips. The pressure’s off at this point, and the band exploits that freedom to their advantage with a collection of songs impressive enough to rival their best work.
Immediately apparent on Trips is the production. Crisp and clear, it’s a far cry from the raw, unpolished sound that permeated throughout Samiam’s 2006 effort Whatever’s Got You Down, and consequently bogged down what was, in fact, a batch of pretty good songs. It’s a quick start, as both “80 West” and “Clean Up the Mess” hover around the two-minute mark, but while “West” is an exercise in direct, soaring pop-punk, “Mess” is decidedly softer and more somber in tone, with some surprisingly dissonant guitars buzzsawing in the background of the chorus. In less than four minutes, the listener gets a pretty comprehensive look at both sides of Samiam, or at least the most direct versions of each.
Plenty of the melodies and moods that dominate Trips put it right where 2000’s excellent Astray left off. “Demon” rings with twinkling guitars and thumps with busy drums, while utilizing the inverse of the quiet-loud dynamic—thunderous verses and softer, more dynamic choruses—to its maximum potential. “Crew of One”, on the other hand, is just perpetually loud and wonderful, with massive "oh"s anchoring the chorus and a riff-filled bridge among its highlights. Also impressive is the guitar interplay from Sergie Loobkoff and Sean Kennerly that dominates “How Would You Know”, a song that in both approach and tone bumps up nicely against its follower, “Nightly”.
The back half of Trips keeps the consistency established by its first half, with “Freetime” capturing Samiam at its bounciest, most anthemic and most handclap-filled. At five-plus minutes, “El Dorando” is the album’s longest entry, but also its best; with a bass-heavy foundation and guitars that flicker more than scorch, it’s a song most reliant on vocalist Jason Beebout, and he knocks it out of the park with a confident, yet solemn performance. All told, it probably should've been tapped as the closing track, even if the three songs that come after it (“Magellan”, “Did You Change” and “Happy for You”) are all reliably solid.
Like every other great Samiam record (Clumsy, You Are Freaking Me Out and Astray are the others, if you’re keeping score at home), Trips is a sprawling but cohesive effort with differing moods and tempos that coalesce to form a larger, far more interesting listening experience. If it ends up being the band’s last album (and there’s no indication it will be, though their track record suggests it’ll be their last one for a while), it’ll surely be one that resonates with fans for a long time.