The second album from Los Angeles rocker SASAMI (a.k.a. Sasami Ashworth) could not differ more from her first. Those expecting a record similar to her grounded, meditative, and tender self-titled debut from 2019 will either be thoroughly disappointed or pleasantly surprised by the hardcore energy behind Squeeze. Here, she’s assertive and a little vindictive—and the music straight-up shreds. With her sophomore record, she’s avoided a slump by showing off her extensive range within the wide-open genre known as rock.
Ashworth opens up the album with the gnawing and sinister “Skin A Rat,” a song ferociously anti-establishment and sounding hungry for blood. The unsettlingly childlike lullaby in the beginning is cut off by a wall of sound: The snare comes down hard and her vocals pour out with the hiss of a snake. It’s a grisly sonic effect, SASAMI using her big musical boots to crush the capitalist rodents via her deep vocals and piercing wails. It suggests an album made to thrash.
Instead, immediately after, Squeeze begins to open up and shine. SASAMI’s vocals ring out clearly on “The Greatest,” without the garble of effects boasted by the opening track. It feels plucked from another time in rock, like the grungy ’90s hits of Alanis Morissette or The Cranberries, in a way that feels classic yet new thanks to SASAMI’s touch.“The Greatest” peaks with a giant triumphant build, which opens up to a raucous guitar solo. A trace of the ’90s surfaces once again with “Call Me Home,” SASAMI’s stab at writing, as she says, a “Sheryl Crow-inspired” song. Gentle yet powerful, it’s about having too much of a good thing—and sometimes needing to throw some dynamite on your life and watch it blow up. Her vocals pour out like a torrent of reassuring emotion while psychedelic synths swirl and envelop the listener.
By contrast, “Say It”—about the feeling of spiraling from a lack of communication—is edgy and fit for a night of raucous clubbing. The musical equivalent of a dark room filled with strobe lights, under which things seems to move with a choppy, manic energy, SASAMI pleads for the subject to rip off the Band-Aid and tell her the hard truth. This desperation is matched in “Need It To Work,” where the singer repeats the title over and over again like a mantra: The bass takes the lead with urgency, as the guitar drills the same note repeatedly in the chorus, further reinforcing her dark meditation.
The mish-mash of styles doesn’t always succeed. A bit of whiplash occurs when “Need It To Work” ends and the record jumps to the acoustic thrum of “Tried To Understand.” It’s in this push-and-pull that one might wonder if the album—filled with aptly handled yet wildly varying sonic directions—might have been better split into two, more cohesive, EPs. Before you can sit on the thought for too long, however, “Make It Right” swoops in with sounds straight from a Strokes album, as the guitar hums along to drums in the forefront.
The back half of the album continues to surprise. SASAMI transforms Daniel Johnston’s “Sorry Entertainer” into a straight-up metal track, a full-throttle rock workout heretofore unheard of from the musician, but she aces it with exhilarating effect. While “Tried To Understand” and “Make It Right” offer a few moments of brevity, the rest of the album sits heavy. The title track, featuring experimental rocker No Home, boils and bubbles, rallying with the rhyming phrases “LAUGHING, DRINKING, SUCKING, THINKING, RUNNING, REELING, FARTHER.” Like the rest of the heavy hitters on the album, it’s bloody, visceral, keeping the listener on their toes.
“Not A Love Song” concludes with a near-perfect encapsulation of SASAMI’s balance between tender love and vitriol. With the lyrical pace of an old folk song, the singer-songwriter illustrates herself trying to put the intangible beauty of life into something more finite, like a song or photograph. All the while, guitars croon in the background, and everything builds to a massive wave, giving us just a hint of the “beautiful, beautiful sound” she describes.
The album cover art for Squeeze is an ode to the Nure-onna, an aquatic vampiric creature with the body of a snake and the head of a woman. The being’s essence is captured in the foreboding and dramatic interlude “Feminine Water Turmoil,” with lulling strings and a deepness not yet heard on Squeeze. Multifaceted in nature, the Nure-onna is described as feminine, solitary, and noble, while also being a powerful, brutal, and vicious destroyer. It’s a fitting reference: While the work may not always feel cohesive, SASAMI moves between these worlds with ease.