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AM & Shawn Lee – Celestial Electric (Review)

AM & Shawn Lee, Celestial Electric

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4.5 out of 5

AM and Shawn Lee’s Celestial Electric is, like its name suggests, a concept album made in heaven.

A meeting of shared musical minds, it came about when AM heard Lee on the radio before the two bonded over their mutual love of vintage French and Italian library and film music as well as nuggets from the Finders Keepers record label. It was then that the idea of making an album together took shape.

Rather than being ‘out there’ or self-satisfying, however, the resulting LP is an electro-soul classic that also encompasses pop, soul, funk, jazz, Brazilian tropicalia, Turkish psychedelia and vintage soundtracks.

Yet it’s delivered in a breezy, accessible manner that plays well to a potentially wide and appreciative fan-base, whether that’s David Holmes followers, Lalo Schifrin admirers, or just long-term fans of Lee’s work or 2010 AM masterpiece, Future Sons & Daughters.

The album gets off to a cracking start with City Boy, a bittersweet slice of funk-soul that combines AM’s falsetto vocals with funky back-beats and great guitar licks, before then hitting you with the equally stylish Lonely Life.

On this occasion, a rat-a-tat drum loop gets things started, before some subtle guitar riffs add a melt in the mouth flavour to the instrumentals. The melancholy lyrics, however, provide a striking counterpoint, while AM adopts an even higher falsetto over the striking chorus, when the synths also hit you with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on an MGMT record.

Can’t Figure It Out weaves an intimate tale over some solid bass, while album highlight Dark Into Light creates a funky generational anthem that’s both sleek and extremely radio friendly. When AM asks ‘have we done our best to turn the wrong into right, turn the dark into light’, you’ll undoubtedly want to sing along in tandem, before the moody synth underpinning proceedings kicks back in and sets things in motion again. It’s mesmerising and effortlessly cool.

But picking out any one true highlight is difficult, such is the album’s warmth and overall quality.

Different Forces dabbles in that Brazilian tropicalia that was previously mentioned, while also coming over all soulful; Jackie Blue offers an intriguing update of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’ 1974 hit; Somebody Like You combines a striking central guitar riff and slick beats with more falsetto vocals pining for somebody like the object of AM’s affections, and Promises Are Never Far From Lies trades on yet more funky, even euphoric synth arrangements before hitting you with a really pop chorus. Again, MGMT lovers eat your heart out!

Elsewhere, The Signal demonstrates the duo’s love for exotic, continually evolving arrangements, drawing on world music elements once more, while Winter Sun hits a lazy, psychedelic, ‘70s vibe that also wears the pair’s passion for those French and Italian library music on their sleeve. It’s very laidback, even trippy.

Callahan, meanwhile, rounds things off with another retro romp… this time an instrumental tribute to both Clint Eastwood’s iconic anti-hero cop ‘Dirty Harry’ and composer Lalo Schifrin, with a little David Holmes (of Ocean’s 11 fame) thrown in. It’s a fantastic way to round things off to a beautiful collaboration.

You won’t want to miss out!

Download picks: City Boy, Lonely Life, Dark Into Light, Somebody Like You, Callahan, Jackie Blue

Track listing:

  1. City Boy
  2. Lonely Life
  3. Can’t Figure It Out
  4. Dark Into Light
  5. Different Forces
  6. Jackie Blue
  7. Somebody Like You
  8. Promises Are Never Far From Lies
  9. Down The Line
  10. The Signal
  11. Winter Sun
  12. Callahan