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Getting Into Sinking
Polyvinyl Records

Pennsylvaniaís AM/FM have done their homework. Getting Into Sinking, released in 2001, shows the band quite competent at the lo-fi sound with the ability to throw in electronics, lounge, jazz, and country at will. This record even reveals a knowledge of subtlety; the recognition that some of your best musical weapons are better left deeper in the mix. Unfortunately, all of this work results in an album that is remarkably flat for all of its influences.

AM/FM disappoints primarily in their inability to showcase an element as their own. No instrument, no vocal styling, no sense of technique stands out as definitive of the bandís sound. Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell, along with a handful of additional musicians, seem too intent on making the album sound in some way "correct"--bringing in a variety of instruments, finding a proper balance between natural and electronic sounds, and giving each piece of musical information equal weight. To their credit, many listeners should find Getting Into Sinking appealing in its ability to cover such a broad territory so well. To really make an impression, however, Sokel and Parsell need to find an element that sets them apart in the lo-fi pop field.

A track by track rundown will prove unhelpful for this album full of mid-tempo, up-beat, and generally pleasant songs. Starting with an acoustic core, each song also features a combination of electric guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and random percussion instruments, horns, and samples. The percussion, keyboards, and horns generally have the cheesy and spontaneous lo-fi sound going. This is charismatic but never completely catchy. More accurately, the members of AM/FM fill the album with hooks without the mixing or arrangements to make them catchy. Instruments often cancel each other out rather than work together dynamically; the most powerful guitar lines and the best vocals sound hesitant and reserved; it becomes difficult to decide which parts are "subtle" when every part feels like it is in the background. "Hey, Thatís No Way To Say Goodbye", a Leonard Cohen cover, epitomizes this problem: the rendition offers a near-exact replica of the original without the keyboards or backing vocals found on Cohenís version. The solo acoustic guitar comes off well enough, but the vocals are flat and constant, losing the accents and punctuation that Cohen created by emphasizing certain words or syllables. Nothing is highlighted; everything fades.

Getting Into Sinking seems ready to shake this shortcoming towards the end of the album. "I Was Never Here" takes on a country-tinged tempo but does not benefit much from it. "Head Gone Vertical" does the same with a hip-hop feel, trying to incorporate wailing vocals that never fully wail. "It Fell Out Of My Mind" changes the pace of the album with an almost disturbing drone while the vocals seem to be drawing you in only to take advantage of you. The song also features a highly-effected keyboard solo that cuts through the drone with electric precision. The title track closes out the album on a half-bang. A guitar feedback intro promises to wreak some havoc over another unsuspecting acoustic number but never goes in for the kill. Rather than escalating the guitar, the feedback gives way to a few random crashes that fittingly end the album on somewhat of a whimper.

The lyrics reflect the identity crisis that the music appears to be going through. Sokelís words describe characters in terms of future lives and dream selves, characters who have trouble achieving any stability in perspective. In "Virgins! Virgins!", It was the future when we first fell in love. The next song describes a time When we are born the third time around, a time when we were / A constellation out past the sun / Just slipping around on our love. The narrator of "All Your Dreams Come True" realizes that youíre the one / That youíre dreaming of. In "Come Suck Down A Cloud", the narrator feels that My feet will appear to be off the ground / When in fact theyíll just be upside down. In this sense, the music compliments the lyrics well as it explores influences like perspectives with sounds rooted in the past, looking to the future, or coming from dreams. Perhaps the lyrics make it more appropriate for the music never to find an identity as they explore the difficulties of reconciling a notion of identity against multi-perspectivism. Nonetheless, the musicís lack of a strong sense of self seems a greater hindrance than asset.

If not achieving a unique voice in Getting Into Sinking, AM/FM can still boast a solid musical background with a knack for meshing lyrics with music. With more confidence and perhaps more help on the production end, these Pennsylvanians should have some promising albums left in them.

- Matt King

Track Listing:

  1. Virgins! Virgins!
  2. If We Burned All The Assholes The Earth Would Look Like The Sun
  3. All Your Dreams Come True
  4. The Death They Claim
  5. And Then I Got To Thinking About The Animals
  6. Call Me Up
  7. I Was Never Here Two Seconds Ago
  8. Head Gone Vertical
  9. If Fell Out Of My Mind
  10. Hey, Thatís No Way To Say Goodbye
  11. Come Suck Down A Cloud
  12. Getting Into Sinking

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