"What Being In Love Is" - Sam Robbins
When I first listened to Sam Robbins's new single "What Being In Love Is", I temporarily left the confines of my quarantined New Jersey suburb and somewhat astral-projected to a much more bucolic place by means of the incredible arrangement he's cultivated here. Robbins's music, without declaring so, propels itself above the clichés that dominate Nashville songwriting today. His vocal delivery is void of the tongue-in-cheek flirting and over-rehearsed quirky nuances that, in an attempt to drive home the naiveté of young love, often come off pretentious. There's a problem today with music being afraid to take itself seriously. The brilliance of Robbins is the humorlessness of his singing, he captures the human experience for its unapologetic complexity. He puts on display the nullifying quality of someone experiencing their life without ever caricaturing it for digestibility. "What Being In Love Is" resonates with as much warmth as the hearth of its grand soul-search: love.
It's confidence in one's message that finds Robbins inviting the listener's curiosity with a mellow synth pad introduction rather than a shout for attention. Robbins's voice enters as if floating atop the synth cloud below, and is a beautiful instrument in its own right. His baritone voice is at once relaxed and warm, yet brimming with a colorful smokiness. The shift in timbre and range from verse to chorus evokes the likeness of folk singer-songwriters James Taylor and Laura Marling, masters of maneuvering emotional signals with a change of register. Robbins's ability to articulate his lyrics in a captivating way, and his choice of inflection in the melody and how he delicately pairs it with his concise rhyming ("I had a girl with blonde hair and blue eyes/And she wore her face like a pretty disguise"), paint his story so vividly, one where he's invested time into each word and how it sounds. There's true life and depth in his singing, the most significant quality of great folk storytellers.
As each stanza breathes new history into the retrospective of Robbins's relationships, steel guitar, bass, and finger-picked acoustic meticulously unfurl in atmospheric euphony, with none so daring to impede the revelation of his endeavors. "She was nothing like you/But I loved them too". This contrast cadences in a questioning manner, as though the uniting of these often unsaid but universally present conflicting emotions implies a much more nuanced realization. One that Robbins doesn't shy away from exploring, but perhaps more impressively, never breaks the song's step in defining.
The chorus is notably more concerned with Robbins's own view of love than its corresponding verses which were once so fixated on putting to comparison his current lover from his past ones. There's a self-awareness regarding the temporality of his attachment to others, and the irony of what we view to be once-in-a-lifetime relationships happening many times to everyone. Its this core dissonance of ideas that Robbins ponders, and in applying that to himself seeks a deeper truth. "If its all insecurity anyway then it just depends/On where I decide the line is" comes at the peak of the song, Robbins's declaration on how to move forward and not let these discrepancies define a novel love, and its a fine conclusion at that.
Listen to "What Being In Love Is" here.