Editors' pick

AM & Shawn Lee with Peggy Sue


Editorial Review

Album review: "Celestial Electric"

"Celestial Electric," a tape-trading collaboration between Los Angeles singer-songwriter AM and London composer-producer Shawn Lee, could have been a suave but bloodless affair. Both musicians are devotees of "library" music (aural wallpaper) and early-'70s lite-funk production. Yet this release rises above its bland inspirations, thanks to an ingredient many retro-pop dabblers neglect - melody.

The collaboration begins with Lee's rhythm patterns, but isn't simply a collection of grooves. AM upholsters Lee's frameworks with memorable tunes and urbane vocals, often gliding into falsetto. The two invoke such now-trendy vintage influences as Serge Gainsbourg and Brazil's Tropicalia, yet their taste in covers is mainstream: They include a version of "Jackie Blue," the extremely catchy 1975 hit by the utterly unfashionable Ozark Mountain Daredevils.

AM can take his affection for the '70s too far, notably in his lyrics. "Now you'll be my lady," he coos in "City Boy," sounding like a fern-bar Casanova in a half-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt. Perhaps such oily pickup lines are just part of the joke, but "Celestial Electric" is best when AM & Shawn Lee aren't kidding. The album's wah-wah guitar and keyboard glissandos may have been recorded with a wink, but its songs are genuinely good.

--Mark Jenkins, Sept. 16, 2011