Band of the Day

2011.12.30

AM and Shawn Lee

Vintage soul grooves collide with electrified pop mastery
We don’t want to go unsung, so give us your faith, cuz it’s not too late, to turn the wrong into right.
lyrics from Dark Into Light

AM and Shawn Lee is a collaboration between Los Angeles-based musician AM and London-based Shawn Lee. Both established musicians in their own right, the two musicians worked together to write Celestial Electric. AM contacted Shawn Lee via email after hearing one of his songs played on the radio, and the two artists discovered they shared a love for vintage soul and jazz as well classic French and Italian music. They decided to write an album together and traded music through the web. Lee, an accomplished percussionist, began by sending AM drum tracks. AM wrote songs around the percussion, and the two musicians continued sending the tracks back and forth, honing them further using an assortment of vintage instruments and cheap synths. The result of their work was released as Celestial Electric in September 2011. The full-length album is a unique brand of electro-soul, combining an assortment of textures and styles but tied together by AM's keen vocal melodies and Lee's expert rhythmic sense.

Listen to a snippet of AM & Shawn Lee's music and you might describe it as organic, free-flowing, groove-tastic even. It sounds like the result of two longtime bandmates jamming away. Spoiler: it's not. AM & Shawn Lee is the collaboration of Los Angeles-based AM and London's Shawn Lee. After bonding over a shared love of vintage soul and 60s and 70s French and Italian music, AM and Lee began sending tracks back and forth. Lee would start things off with a drum beat, which AM wrote a song around, and the two continued the transatlantic correspondence until a finished song emerged. The result is Celestial Electric, an eclectic mix of influences built from funk and soul-inspired grooves, pop songwriting, and cheap synths (that sound great). Take a track like “City Boy,” with its easy going, funky drums and jazzy, swinging rhythm guitar. It's got a smooth 70s soul vibe to it, updated with synths. With its “London Calling” (The Clash) style staccato guitar stabs, moody bass line, and volatile, funky drums, “Somebody Like You” pulses with a focused energy that feels ready to explode. It's just a couple of blues riffs away from the Black Keys; AM's insistently hooky, falsetto declaration of “don't you know that I need somebody/need somebody like you” sounds a lot like the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach's chart topping moments. “Dark Into Light” veers beautifully into the Flaming Lips' synth-based psychedelia territory, though Lee's ever-groove oriented drumming helps maintain the rhythmic vibes. For such a varied record, Celestial Electric sounds amazingly cohesive. Part of it is the consistent drumming style and AM's whimsically soulful vocals, but the lo-fi production style plays a part too. The lo-fi production ties together the 80s synths, 70s style keyboards, funky drums, and bright guitar, giving all of it a mellow vintage sheen. AM & Shawn Lee is the sound of two tremendously talented musicians playing off each other's strong points and creating something much greater than the sum of their parts.