Am & Shawn Lee – Celestial Electric

Rating: ★★★★☆

Originally a solo artist, AM hails from America, bringing the diverse sound that you would expect from someone who was raised New Orleans. Producing music steadily built upon the mixture of Americana folk pop as well as various R&B elements, he already had a whole lot of genre conglomeration going on before he decided that he would collaborate with London acclaimed groove master, Shawn Lee, on this album. What one would think is far too many different kinds of sound to be packed into one album, but the result is surprisingly refreshing.

First, let me just say, do not be intimidated by the size of this album. At fifteen tracks, with the medium range time around three and a half minutes, Celestial Electric comes in at around an hour total, which to me, sounded like I was going to be bored by the final track; I mean come on, how much electronic beats can you dish out without repeating yourself? However, I was stunned at the variety and these two’s ability to keep things fresh pretty much consistently through the fifty four minute long album.

With any preconceived notions about electronica, or anything else out of the way, let’s get to the actual music. Celestial Electric opens on an instrumental track, “Dillon’s Song,” which is by no means brief, but also by no means boring. It’s a lovely little groove, which builds the whole way from a funky bass line. The next track is “I Didn’t Really Listen,” another groovy beat that will make you sway in the verses and party dance in the choruses/breaks from the normal serene beat. Overall, it sort of sounds like a mellowed and more electronically driven Phoenix, which is a connection probably made on the vocals, which are most similar.

So, introduced to this massive mix of genres, you continue your trek through these waves of chill, each track inducing some head bobbing, and maybe a little shimmy-shaking—if you’re feeling it especially. For me, someone who doesn’t normally get along too well with dancey music, this feels different. Each song pulls me in, making it hard to skip a song. Sure, there are some real standouts, like the early “City Boy, ” which combines a sweet guitar base with a falsetto chorus that will have you crooning right along. Or even “Promises Are Never Far From Lies,” which is perhaps the grooviest track on here, bringing those handclap sounds and the made for dancing synth meanderings.

All in all, Celestial Electric is as its name would suggest—a stunning and ridiculously enticing slew of electronic beats. Give it a try before you knock it.


Download: AM & Shawn Lee – Dark Into Light [MP3]

Cass McCombs – Wit’s End

Rating: ★★★★☆

On his website, McCombs claims that this fifth record is a venture “going deeper into the mania of a man buried alive inside his self-made catacombs,” indicating that this album is a continuation and further explanation of said metaphor. However, even without this tidbit of knowledge from the man, Wit’s End is inclination enough to denote this surge to a more intricate and deeper reaching sound for Cass McCombs.

Wit’s End begins on a nonchalant note: the slow-moving drum beats and Cass’s gentle voice just sort of slips you into to his realm of ambiguity. No moment of anticipation, or calm before the storm, rather, in an instant you’re with him on an adventure to discover, or explore the human psyche. Such is the case with “County Line,” and continues onto “The Lonely Doll,” in which an eerie lullaby tinkling meanders through the song meanwhile you are narrated through a spindly tale of the title character. At this point, McCombs comes off as a Bob Dylan esque figure in getting lost in his own mind. “Buried Alive” describes this feeling as being “in a sea of black” and you can’t help but empathize with this man; we’ve all such a feeling of lost-ness somewhere along the way and Wit’s End makes this feel natural, and even right.

As far as the actual music goes, there is not too much to rave on about. It fits with the overwhelmingly powerful lyrics, and I think that is all that really matters for this album. Yes, there is the softly eroding piano on numbers like “Saturday Song,” that slowly beats you down with every press of the keys. And yes, there is the tender horn-work on the finisher “A Knock Upon the Door,” but there isn’t a reliance on that musical crescendo of majestic beauty. Cass McCombs is unapologetically cryptic and shady because that’s just the way he is.

At first listen, it seems that Mr. McCombs may have gone too far around the bend. The soft plucking of the guitar accompanied by his whisper of a voice sounds akin to that of a jaded old man with several regrets and misfortunes. However, the more listens acquired, the easier it is to ascertain the meaning behind this mans’ madness. Or if no meaning arises to your ears, it is at least devastatingly interesting to listen to the plight of another. It will grow on you.