Almost three years since the release of Sasami Ashworth's debut album, she returns with the ambitious Squeeze. While "SASAMI" was deemed a heartbreaking shoegaze record, her sophomore release has cranked everything up to eleven, with a far more elusive sound. Covering folk, punk, nu-metal, and everything in between, the record also aims to cover the themes of "anti-toxic positivity" and healing through music, making it an especially intimate listen, a group therapy experience almost.
The project rollout kicked off last October with a double single. Track one, which is also the album opener "Skin on Rat ", is a two-minute forty-second nu-metal banger, so it makes sense the track even featured Megadeath's Dirk Verbeuren on drums. (and vocals in every form from Vagabon's Laetitia Tamko and actress/comedian Patti Harrison). This is followed by the quite contrasting soft harmonized and organ laced "The Greatest ". The objectives for what Squeeze would be were set out very early.
Fitting track three, "Say It", perfectly encapsulates the range of genres Sasami Ashworth aims to cover in this album in one song, with an opening the Nail Inch Nails would be proud of. A chorus fans of The Cardigans would adore (specifically 2003's anthem "For What It's Worth"). Meshing the two sounds together is an ambitious task, and achieving this successfully is an art. Later we see "Make It Right" deliver punk rhythm guitars, with the lyrics and vocals reminding me of a Carpenters song.
SASAMI chose to cover the late Danial Johnson's "Sorry Entertainer", a song about "tackling your demons through music", which is more than appropriate in her mission to make an album that will cater to "anyone else who needs to release some pent-up emotions." As someone whose only tendency to feel anger is on my commute to work, I shamefully relate.
This audible seesaw of sounds and genres is present throughout the entire album and within every non-musical element. Even the album's title represents exactly what you should be experiencing while listening - "The word 'squeeze' can be very endearing and gentle, like a hug, or really aggressive, like physically bruising, or it can represent desperation".
The same idea is worked into the artwork. LA-based SASAMI is of Zainichi descent, and during her research of her mixed Korean and Japanese culture, she discovered the Japanese yōkai Nure-onna ("Wet Woman"). A character with no set form, though usually depicted as the body of a snake with a female's head, similar to what we see on the cover, but with SASAMI's head. The ancient tale states the creature has the power to spare or kill based on the moral status of potential victims.
The ability to be kind or deadly. Physically with no set shape, just like the fluidity of influences and many genres touched upon in the body of work. For example, the latter segment of the record "Feminine Water Turmoil" showcases the artist's classically trained background. Musically this flows gently into the grand finale of the record. 2019's "SASAMI" closed on the heartbreakingly beautiful "Turned Out I Was Everyone", and Squeeze seems to carry this tradition with closer "Not A Love Song" I challenge you to not end your listening experience with at least one tear glazed eye.
The album offers so many fine details to process, which I adore. The unknown depths and dedication to continuity in every intense detail leave me writing this wondering how many more hidden elements I'll be discovering for a long time to come. And I have no doubt you will, too; till then, I'll be hopefully enjoying a new reputation as a more zen cyclist.