Live Music + Gig Reviews

AM @ Water Rats, London

26 October 2010

The release of AM’s recent album Future Sons And Daughters was perhaps unfairly over-looked on this side of the Atlantic. Full of glistening pop tunes slathered in American influence, it’s an easy-to-digest meal of cheeseburgers and cherry coke. Fresh from a support slot with Train, AM (the name given to both the band and the frontman) ended a tour around the UK with their own gig, scaling down from some larger venues to this tiny one in King’s Cross.

Fellow Naim Label talent Gwyneth Herbert provides support with an inventive and enjoyable set. An antidote to a succession of soft and delicate female singers, Herbert’s voice is a husky, powerful one. Morning After stands out as does her not-so-subtle swipe at music critics, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is (she’s obviously not that familiar with most music critics’ bank accounts). Showcasing a few tracks from her upcoming Clangers And Mash EP (nicely titled Gwyneth), together with her guitarist Al Cherry their multi-tasking around a variety of instruments proves a perfect fit as AM’s lead in.

Future Sons And Daughters has an overall vibe of a laidback college rock record. His are the kind of songs that sit well, and indeed have sat well, playing in the background of various television programmes. Because these are inoffensive, light tunes, designed for enjoyment, although their complexities shouldn’t be under-estimated – this isn’t lazy songwriting.

Aside from the hippy-looking Shawn Lee who joins them for occasional tambourine duties, there are just two others who form AM the band. Brett Bixby, enveloped by a variety of synths and keyboards, provides that enough different sounds are utilised to hold attention and avoid sliding into a monotonous singer/songwriting hell. Similarly Chris Lovejoy’s shuffling percussion keeps the pace moving, as he bangs away with his hands while making various totally-into-it face contortions. Meanwhile AM, the man, has a sweet tone of voice, matching up to his genial compositions. The three of them look adorable in their styling – all waistcoats, hats, scarves, ties and immaculately groomed facial hair.

The set list is largely taken from Future Sons And Daughters. They begin with a psychedelic instrumental, like a prog vortex, demonstrating their ability to switch between the all-American pop-rock of Weezer and the swirly experimentalism of The Flaming Lips. They engage throughout but best moments include a turn on the ubiquitous ukelele for The Other Side and the swoonsome ballad Darker Days.

A few cover versions are squeezed in, including a decent stab at The Beatles‘ I’m Only Sleeping and an ill-advised cover of Reach Out (I’ll Be There), which is a little too familiar and steers dangerously close to pub band. But overall they’re a delight, charming and bursting with likeable songs. The album is the type of record that can be liked by just about everyone, so don’t be surprised if it’s just taking its leisurely time before finally breaking through.

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AM @ Water Rats, London