Sambassadeur's 2010 full-length, European, offers a refreshing departure from the band’s previous effort, Migration -- an album that, while it was by no means bad, was ultimately a tad one-dimensional compared to Sambassadeur's earlier work, thanks in large part to its glassy-smooth production (granted, it was pretty, but it worked to flatten out the album entirely). European can be seen as a meeting point between Migration and Sambassadeur's earlier work: it takes the jangly, shambling warmth of the band’s self-titled debut and gives it a layer of glossy varnish. It also finds the group dipping into '80s dance-pop and soft rock influences; there’s a good shake of campiness to be found on European. The result is an album with a windblown, cinematic feel. The production sounds practically dewy, something like the musical equivalent of a soft-focus lens; there are times when it teeters on the edge of sounding saccharine, especially when it comes to the crystalline piano notes that open up the album’s first track, "Stranded." European spills over with soundtrack-style flourishes: crisp, cool string arrangements ("Days," "I Can Try"); triumphant drum rolls ("Forward Is All"); and rollicking piano chords. The album’s stand-out track, “I Can Try,” sounds, in the best possible way, like something off the soundtrack of a John Hughes movie thanks to its oh-so-'80s instrumentation (wind chimes, synthesized strings, a drum machine, and yes, a saxophone solo). Granted, it’s the kind of approach that risks sounding goofy, but by and large, European strikes a nice balance between genuine and theatrical, shambling and shiny.
by Margaret Reges