AM & Shawn Lee, Celestial Electric, Eighteenth Street Lounge
Every once in a while a record comes along that I don't like at first, but something compels me to listen again, and by the second time through: I'm hooked. That was the case with AM & Shawn Lee's Celestial Electric, which arrived one day from out of the blue (and that ELO allusion isn't totally unwarranted).
I had never heard of Los Angeles vocalist/keyboard player AM or London beat-maker/Psapp associate Shawn Lee before I put on their CD, which I found too light and breezy for my taste, like Seals & Croft gone electronica. Then I got to their cover of "Jackie Blue," one-hit wonder from the Ozark Mountain Daredevils.
"Jackie" isn't exactly a great song, but this version stopped me in my tracks: I loved it, I hated it, and I had to hear it again. By then it was too late, as I had fallen for the twosome's tropicalia-infused version of dance-pop.
The second it began, I recognized the melody, despite the prominent fuzz bass, because I grew up with that damn song and other forms of "Have a Nice Day" music. To their credit, they don't wrap it in layers of irony or bury it in effects; they just add texture and urgency, creating something more timeless than dated.
So, I came around, but "Dark into Light," which aligns AM's airy falsetto with rumbling Tubeway Army-style synths, is an even better choice for the first single as it's a stronger track and more representative of the album as whole.
The B-side, "Spin It Around," isn't bad either (you can listen to both here). Before signing to Thievery Corporation's ESL imprint, AM and Lee released the original gold-vinyl 12-inch on Ubiquity in conjunction with April's Record Store Day.
Having listened several times since, it's hard to see how their first full-length could've rubbed me the wrong way, not when it recalls so many acts I enjoy, like Kraftwerk, the Beta Band, Air, Phoenix, and Juana Molina, though it's not as if my first impression was incorrect. Celestial Electricis light and breezy, but AM's Eric Carmen-like voice grew on me as surely as Lee's slinky, seductive grooves.
This soggy summer has already offered up some fantastic releases, from Black Up to Goodbye Bread, but this one sounds the most like a sunny day in São Paulo.
The record releases on Tuesday, 9/13. That day, AM & Shawn Lee play live on KEXP at 9:30am. That night, they headline at the Sunset Tavern (9:30pm, 21+).