Now, this is the way to do it.
I miss the old days of the music industry. You know, when you could count on your favorite artist or band releasing an album per year and then doing a tour. Somewhere in the ‘90s that all changed. All of a sudden the rule became release an album every two or three years, so we can milk every possible single on the current release and shoot countless videos. What do I care about videos? Just gimme an album I can sit back, listen to, and enjoy. I’m one of those old fogies who still buys a record because of the music.
However, here I am listening to this marvelous album by AM/FM called Getting Into Sinking and finding out that this is the band’s second release for this year. And this record is brilliant! The last album these guys had out was just a few short months ago back in March. So see, it is still possible to have things like they used to be, no doubt thanks in part to labels such as Polyvinyl going the distance to support their artists and put out their music. There are still large sections of the industry where the finished product does not revolve around a video.
AM/FM features Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell, two gents straight out of Philly. Again, score another round for Pennsylvania’s finest (between it and Austin, Texas, you couldn’t ask for better cities who are currently housing a great number of excellent indie bands). The duo has created here an album that pop music fans should delight in. And by “pop”, I mean in the classic style, not the current glossy trend. Fans of Jellyfish will really dig AM/FM, as the group likes to play with past influences. However, where Jellyfish wore those influences on its sleeve, AM/FM takes them and makes them something completely new. So yes, you could listen to this and say, oh that sounds a bit like Brian Wilson, but at the same time it would sound like AM/FM. It’s a strange effect, but it’s all superb.
The music throughout Getting Into Sinking is joyous, yearning, and just a little bittersweet. It’s the kind of album you just sit down and listen to. The opening track, “Virgins! Virgins!” is filled with irresistible vocal hooks. This is one of those groups that employ falsettos to a great degree, and it works like a dream every time. The hummed background vocal parts, the quietly strummed acoustic guitars, and the uncommonly liquid-like lead guitar lines all form together to concoct an emotionally satisfying brand of pop that melts into your ears.
Bare, honest emotion is also part of the AM/FM mix. In the wonderfully titled “If We Burned All the Assholes the Earth Would Look Like the Sun”, Sokel sings, “It’s hard to believe that you said to me / Late that night in New York City / You don’t need to impress me / Your love is all I need”. Such musings often come off as trite and forgettable from other bands, but here, AM/FM handles the words with ease and not a trace of irony or cheekiness. In “All Your Dreams Come True” (which sounds like a cross between classic Beach Boys experimentation and Pink Floyd’s “San Tropez”), Brian states “It’s not like time will wait for us but it slows down / If you try hard enough and make no sound / It’ll come back around”. Again, it’s simply straightforward. These are the kind of love songs that were very common not too terribly long ago before the need for Barbie doll sexuality swept over the pop landscape. Well, it’s nice to hear someone taking the time to be real once again rather than singing from their groin.
In “The Death They Claim” the band once again flirts with a kind of Sixties pop rock sound that a lot of other bands who like to retread retro often don’t touch. Once more, it’s a little like late ‘60s Pink Floyd (think second side of Atom Heart Mother with a bit of Alan Parsons thrown in perhaps (maybe I’m drawing that connection since Parsons worked on that particular Floyd album). But then it all turns into a much more modern sounding piece with all sorts of unexpected guitar soloing that sounds like it’s about to take over the song, yet it works brilliantly.
That more modern flavor is the backbone to such fantastic tunes as “Head Gone Vertical” where distorted drums work smoothly with the sweet vocals, and the minimalist “It Fell Out of My Head” that barely rises above a whisper. Again, this is music that asks to be sat down and listened to and experienced. If one takes the time to do this, then the rewards are immeasurable. Getting Into Sinking is a multi-layered experience that brings about something new every time you play it.
I can’t imagine AM/FM not being successful. This is the strange kind of band that would stand out no matter what they were doing. A lot of that is due to the fact that they’re making music that touches not only on some of the more esoteric past influences, but also generates an entirely new sound that is captivating. I get to listen to a lot of what is often termed “pop rock”, but this album is definitely the definition of everything great that that term means to me. Getting Into Sinking should rightfully go down as an indie pop classic.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. We need your help to keep PopMatters strong and growing. Thank you.
// Notes from the Road
"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.READ the article