A Transatlantic songwriting partnership in the modernist sense, AM & Shawn Lee came about largely through email, trading files back and forth until Celestial Electric was born. It is therefore to their credit that the results are as natural as they could hope to be, the songs unfolding as naturally as the breezy textures.
It proves possible to take in the constant sunshine of California through AM’s higher range vocals and some lovely guitar work, coupled with outer range studio subtleties that give a wider sound. Meanwhile Shawn Lee brings grittier London beats to the lower end, offering a bit of edgy groove to complement the soulfulness found up top. While the results may be a little derivative, drawing liberally at times from the likes of Curtis Mayfield and ’60s West Coast pop, they offer hope of sunnier climes and have enough of an individual imprint to make their mark.
The music is often gorgeous and positive. Where the lyrics might imply something a little negative – Can’t Figure It Out, for instance – the response is consistently upbeat and often dreamy. City Boy is an airy and softly euphoric opener, that finds AM’s voice floating nicely on top of the fluffy texture, while Dark Into Light offers something a bit darker. Here Lee chooses a sharper synth for bass while AM sounds a bit more vulnerable, singing about “how we done our best to turn wrong into right, turn dark into light”.
Most appealing is Jackie Blue, with the requisite ‘oo-oo’s that make it such an easy song to sing along with, AM’s voice completely free of care. The Signal is quicker funk, groovy in the extreme, though if anything AM is too removed in the mix here. Promises Are Never Far From Lies is bang on the money, with an easy groove that slinks along seductively. In fact Lee – assuming he’s responsible for all things bass – has a number of tidy loops in his rhythmic arsenal, as Callahan handsomely demonstrates, part of its effective pastiche of a detective drama soundtrack.
While respectful of its influences, Celestial Electric nonetheless bears the personalities of its creators, and is in essence a dozen beautifully written songs, written without much of a care in the world or the seeming pressure of a deadline. This is music at something like its most natural, made by a collaboration who might not even have met but who have struck up a clear understanding despite the distance between them. More, please.