While not every song is capable of capturing the identity of its composer in a singular melody, as much can be said of Sam Levin’s “Bookmark,” the first cut off of his new album A General Air of Regret, due out later this year. The teenage indie rock phenom is sporting a new look in this song, but at the same time, he comes across as more genuine and vulnerable that he’s ever sounded before. “Bookmark” stylishly frames emotive lyrical nattering with sizzling acoustic guitar harmonies, not only employing Levin’s trademark vocal to evoke strong reactions from listeners, but a boldly crafted string arrangement as well.
This single bears a familiar airiness that has become a bit of a staple in Sam Levin’s recording regimen, but in execution and in the narrative of the words, it feels a bit more introspective and self-analytical than what I was expecting. Every note, every sonic nuance, even every subtle beat has a place in the arrangement of the song that they are never allowed to depart from, and as a result we’re treated to one of the tightest melodies of 2019 so far. This is streamlined enough to win over the mainstream pop crowd, but exotically designed as to appeal to Levin’s longtime supporters in the underground as well.
For as enormous of a part as the strings play in the delivery of this song’s profound charm unto us, they’re rather understated in the master mix. The fact that they make as big of an impact as they do despite this really credits how transcendental Sam Levin’s songwriting has become recently; he’s toying with every ingredient in the pot, toning one element down while simultaneously cranking the levels of another, contrasting textures and melodies just to see what happens next. His experimentation is refreshing, and surprisingly on-point, to put it mildly.
There’s actually a lot to the percussion present in “Bookmark,” though cursory examinations of the track may not suggest how complex and intricately faceted it is. The rhythm of the song is only implied at first; when the drums join us, they’re as soft as a synthesized melody glazing over organic bass play. This isn’t to discount their authenticity; their robotic, almost cold makeup really emphasizes the burning passion in Levin’s voice, especially in fever pitch moments like the chorus. Around the 2:33 mark, it abandons its casual attitude in favor of jumping right out of the stereo to tug at our heartstrings. It’s startling, but not jarring, and perfectly culminates all of the emotion in the song instantly.
There’s no need for debate; “Bookmark” is a slab of superb songwriting from a young workhorse who is clearly well on his way to superstardom. Sam Levin has been making one killer track after another these last few years, and though he’s only 17 and still managing all of the daily strife that comes with being an American teenager, he exudes an adult-grasp of humanity and understanding within his music that deserves to be highlighted for the gem that it is. Don’t waste your time wondering – his story is far from over.