Earlier this year, I got a 5 song EP by Saso called Warmed Up. It was a nice little slab of quiet indie rock that combined many different elements, including a touch of drone, a bit of emo, and a smidge of newer Radiohead. Perhaps it was on purpose, but that album arrived just as the last of the snow was melting for the year, while this release comes out just at at the onset of winter. Stylistically, the releases both encorporate some of the same elements, but Big Group Hug also takes off into some other areas, including rocking out at several points (whereas the previous EP stayed at a fairly steady, mellow pace).
The release opens up with the album titled track of "Big Group Hug" and it's actually one of the more standard-sounding tracks on the entire release. The track moves along with very subtle keyboard layers and some strummed guitars, allowing the vocals of Jim Lawler (again the one man band behind the release) to drift some wounded vocals over everything. Eventually the track drops off to nothing but a keyboard drone and it fades into the instrumental opening of the second track "Blood Bath." It's hardly as violent as the title may suggest, and after a couple minutes of nice guitar/bass interplay, it drops off into an ambient section with a spoeken word sample from some sitcom (if I had to guess, it sounds like Michael Richards from Seinfeld) before building back up with some strummed guitars, keyboards and a touch of live drums.
The instrumentals continue with the very next track "Bird Brain," and it's here that the group shows their first real sign of rock. After a nice, slow build, the track eventually takes off into a chugging track that offsets a slightly growling edge with some chiming guitars. "Dripfeed" again takes things down a notch with an ambient beginning before dropping off into a short piano and vocal end by Lawler. One of the best tracks on the disc is the instrumental of "Lazy Bones," starting out drifting through a haze before coming together to a rumbling finale.
One of the nice things about the release is that there are lots of little subtleties to be heard on the tracks. Even though it's an independent release and Saso is in essence a one-man show, there are slight flourishes on different tracks and other little embelishments that add to tracks without making them feel at all cluttered. Whether it's the fluttering keyboards in the background of the guitar and vocals of "Somebody" or the electronic sprinklings in "My Brain Hurts," there are some nice little additions around the basic structures of the songs that don't make it feel like things are being stretched.
If I have one beef with the album, it's that it doesn't go a whole lot of directions that the original EP went. Sure, there are some moments where the volume gets cranked a little higher on the guitars, and some very nice new tracks, but it also leaves me curious as to what would happen if everything didn't sound quite as sterile and nice as it does. Still, it's a very nice little release, and if you're into quiet, instrumental albums with a touch of singer/songwriter action, this is a good album to check out. Plus, it's only technically the debut albu, so I'll defintely be keeping an eye out in the future.