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If AM & Shawn Lee's newest release, La Musique Numerique, transports you to a time when kitschy 1960s, '70s and even early '80s movies with partying and humping as central themes ruled, then consider it mission accomplished.
Their latest offering is an ode to the libidinous hip-grinding music by Italian and French soundtrack composers such as Giorgio Moroder, Ennio Morricone, Stelvio Cipriani, Sauveur Mallia, Piero Umiliani and more—godfathers to today's bands, including Air and Daft Punk.
The bones of any AM & Shawn Lee song are period drum machines and keyboards, the same vintage Moogs and consumer-model Casio and Yamaha rigs that ruled when digital technology was just starting to woo the music industry. The duo's synth-heavy disco and funkified electronic music is reminiscent of those film scores, not to mention gobs of library music by even more obscure composers.
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Song sorcerers in their own right, AM and Shawn Lee were each successful solo musicians with parallel influences when their musical worlds collided. The resulting collaboration takes over the Glass House in Pomona on Friday, delivering hypnotic, slinky cosmo funk. La Musique Numerique overflows with come-hither infatuation on songs such as "All the Love," "In the Aftermath" and "Replay," which are sure to plunge your mind right into the gutter. Even songs about breaking up, addiction and a depressing economy manage to sound racy.
AM & Shawn Lee record the way the composers they emulate would have while exploring the simplicity and sounds of the retro equipment, such as the Roland SDE 1000, an early-'80s digital delay unit. "The record [is] a very big tip of the hat to the early digital age of recording technology," AM says.
"The tone—people who know that equipment will hear it in the record, this early turn-of-the-digital-century sound, before digital got kind of cold and metallic-sounding," he continues. "Some musicians seem to be simplifying their set-ups, relying heavily on the computer, but analog and early digital technology had warmth and grittiness. You will definitely hear that all over our recordings."
AM fans from his early years shouldn't be surprised by the artist's interest in soundtracks. His songs have set scenes on TV shows including Grey's Anatomy, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Big Love and various Real World seasons. Every track off his first album, 2005's Troubled Time, made it to the small screen; the album also helped to earn him LA Weekly's award for Best Singer/Songwriter.
While AM's early folk-rock garnered comparisons to Wilco, his third studio recording, 2010's Future Sons and Daughters, featured ethereal tunes pulled from disco, Brazilian Tropicália, psychedelic rock and '70s funk. This emerging sound garnered him invitations to tour with French luminaries Air and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Enter Shawn Lee, a Kansas-born ex-pat living in London. The award-winning video-game composer and multi-instrumentalist's work has been featured in movies, Oceans 13 and The Break-Up among them, as well as various snowboarding videos. Under the moniker Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra, he has become one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop and is known for his innate ability to make everything from a kalimba and ektar to a charango sing.
The two became friends in 2008. They bonded over shared influences, and in 2010, AM sat in with Lee at an LA show. They started working on their first recording, Celestial Electric, and played their first show as a band at the 2011 South By Southwest music festival. "It makes sense that someone like me, being a freak about that kind of music, would reach out to him and create a bond," AM says, adding that Lee has been producing instrumental soundtrack-style music for more than a decade.
The transatlantic alliance works well, with Lee starting a song by sending a rhythm groove with drums and percussion to AM in the States. AM then writes a song based on the preliminary recording, adding guitar, bass, synth or whatever strikes his fancy. The track then makes its way back to Lee for a little glockenspiel or what-have-you, and finis.
Recording independently works well because both collaborators fully trust what the other brings to the table, AM says.
"I think funk music is inherently sexy," AM says about the description popping up in nearly every review of La Musique Numerique. "That's probably the best possible description that music can have."