The name "Sam & Valley" is bound to ring a few bells here and there among aficionados of Japanese experimental electronica and Aphex Twin's own label, Rephlex Records, where they released their debut album in 1997. Having released three additional albums, Sam & Valley closed shop in 2003 and faded into relative obscurity.
Rather than a fifth new album, "Stupid Love or Smart Laugh" is instead a selection of unreleased tracks, a limited edition to keep the flame of Sam & Valley alive. While band member ADK had a background in punk music, Special & Max claims to be something of a dilettante responsible solely for using a computer.
The combination of this Japanese duo's musical background and differing tastes resulted in something that can be be described as playful arrangements of experimental lo-fi electronica with a strong pop feel and a devil-may-care punk attitude, and which they refer to as 'Unsuitable Rock'.
Be as it may, their characteristic combination of simple electronics, happy melodies, occasional chip tunes and off-key vocals may be seemingly chaotic at times but does have a definite and unforgettable charm.
Sam & Valley don't take themselves seriously and their music is a stark reminder that music (and life) doesn't have to be serious, abstract or highbrow and that it can, quite simply, be fun.
Opening with a simple instrumental, "Stupid Love or Smart Laugh" soon presents the listener with karaoke tracks, IDM-tinted ballads and nursery rhyme tracks, love songs and, naturally, techno tracks poking fun at the genre itself. All this without forgetting the occasional nods and winks aimed towards the geeks and nerds among us.
Seemingly simple on the surface, certainly more thought and work went into the creation of tracks like "Heigh Ho! Says Anthony Rowley", "Punch & Judy" or "Flow Out" than it first appears.
There are however some noticeable differences in sound quality between tracks, especially in older tracks like "The Stars and Stripes", something that can be something of a distraction and perhaps could have been ironed out.
As a compilation of unreleased material, this limited edition proves to be a very good introduction to the varied musical world of Sam & Valley and will certainly appeal to old fans as well. Though somewhat disconcerting at first and something of an acquired taste it is, nonetheless, an engaging recording which must be approached with a functioning sense of humour and free of preconceptions. [7.5/10].
[Miguel de Sousa]