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