Do you like throwback rock? Transatlantic partnerships? Pen pals? What about soul, funk, Brazilian tropicalia, Turkish psychedelia, and library music from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s? AM, a Los Angeles indie rock vocalist, and Shawn Lee, a London based rhythm specialist, are fans of all of these things which helped generate their collaborative effort, Celestial Electric.
After hearing a Shawn Lee song on the radio, AM contacted him on “a now defunct social networking site that is best left unnamed” and the two found friendship over a common thread of a love of 60s and 70s soundtrack music. The project that unfolded involved Lee recording drum tracks and sending them to AM to fill out with guitars, bass, keyboards and his distinctive falsetto voices. They were then sent back toLondonfor Lee to add backing vocals, reverb and extra sound layers. An international game of musical table tennis ensued until the songs were just right.
The amount of work put in by the two artists created a vintage, multi-dimensional sound of various instruments and a tremendous level of trust between the two men that the other would act equally as a curator to the songs. Their methods may be avant-garde, but their music is straight out of an era of lava lamps and flower decals.
Lee’s drum beats are subdued but complex and are richly laid over dreamy keyboard tones and choppy, funky guitar chords. Synth-pop additions give the album a contemporary edge, but it is easy to forget this album was released in 2011. Getting lost in the lulling guitar solo of “City Boy,” it is easy to mistake Celestial Electric as a rare vintage vinyl someone found in their parent’s coat closet. The album opens with the instrumental, Latin-infused “Dillon’s Song,” which eases the listener into the beaded curtain and magic carpet world of AM and Shawn Lee. “Jackie Blue,” a remake and perfect 70s name in itself, is a time portal directly to the Me Decade with fuzzy chords; ethereal keyboards; high treble vocals; and a guitar with more wokka wokkas than a Fozzy the Bear punch line. Every track is a funky journey with a mellow bus driver that will have your head bobbing slowly with each percussive beat.
Interestingly enough, the first single off the album is “Dark Into Light,” the one song that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest. It is a progressive electro-beat track that sounds more like Radiohead than Herbie Hancock. If a listener buys Celestial Electric off that one track, they may be in for a surprise, but based on the other fourteen tracks, though, it should be a pleasant one. The album is an hour long retro ride that gets better with every listen. The multilayered instrumentals, courtesy of the armory of musical devices employed by AM and Shawn Lee make picking out each one a fantastic audio Easter Egg hunt.
And I don’t even like Easter Eggs.