AM is a Tulsa-born, New Orleans-raised, L.A.-based singer whose third album, Future Sons & Daughters, won many a convert with its sharply retro mix of hot-tub soul, wounded indie-pop and Brazilian tropicalia in 2010. Shawn Lee — born in Wichita, transplanted to London, and best known for his version of Radiohead’s “No Surprises” on Mark Ronson’s Exit Music project — is a multi-instrumental funkadelian-for-hire who’s worked with The Dust Brothers, Saint Etienne and Money Mark, as well as a slew of soundtrack projects.
With resumes like that, you’d imagine laidback funk on the agenda and you’d be right. Celestial Electric is a delightful, head-nodding, pop-psychedelic heat-haze of an album where grooves are sleazy, women are “ladies” and lovelorn guys just can’t figure this crazy old world out. Lee’s restlessly inventive nouveau breakbeats mesh with a distant shimmer of Moogs and guitars (guiding spirits: library music, Italian horror soundtracks) and AM under-sings everything with detached aplomb. There’s a deliberate roughness here, and a determination to swerve off the map into starry-eyed folk or radiophonic dub, that prevents any slide into ’70s-night ingratiation.
It’s a long-distance collaboration too — they pinged their drum files, melodies and vocals around the world by email — but you really wouldn’t notice, so simpatico are these two trans-genre lounge lizards. On Celestial Electric it’s 1974 forever and the bar is open. Order yourself a large, weirdly-colored cocktail and join in.