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Alternative & Indie - Released November 30, 2004 | Polyvinyl Records

It's uncertain as to what AM/FM was referring when they titled the collection, as the duo certainly did not tank in the least on this sophomore effort. Hopefully it was meant as a preemptive, tongue-in-cheek rebuttal of the clichéd but often accurate mountain that pop bands have traditionally had to climb on second outings, because Getting into Sinking stays afloat quite nicely indeed. Coming a mere eight months after their strikingly fine debut, the album had some sizeable shoe prints in which to step, and it does a marvelous, seemingly effortless job of navigating that trick. Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell, in fact, created a work -- with significant assistance from co-producer and collaborator Terry Yerves -- that is at least as good as Mutilate Us, and probably better on the balance. Getting into Sinking is altogether more confident in its experimentation, more cohesive in its execution, and more concerted in its impact on the listener. Sokel's songs are again quirky and full of melodic steam, filled with superb twists of the wrist or surprising and delightful eruptions of harmony, while the production, finding a perfect middle ground between hiss-filled lo-fi and cluttered indie rock, employs at all the appropriate moments idiosyncratic swirls of trombone, keyboards, vibes, or percussion to embellish already-carnival-esque guitar/bass/drums skeletons. Absurd titles ("If We Burned All the Assholes the Earth Would Look Like the Sun") with loopy lyrics again suggest Stephen Malkmus or Robert Pollard, and like those songwriting greats, Sokel completely avoids coming off as pretentious because the music is so expertly insouciant and playful ("Head Gone Vertical"), or sweet and gleefully sincere ("And Your Dreams Come True," which translates the Phil Spector/Brian Wilson Wall of Sound into the 21st century), or acoustically soul-soft and stirring ("The Death They Claim," the splendid "I Was Never Here Two Seconds Ago," a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye"). The occasional wrong or loose note lends the music a warped or wounded veneer and bends listeners' ears even more toward their unvarnished charms, like such purposeful endearments as puppy-dog eyes inviting the depths of listeners' empathy. But if there is any band who has shown it doesn't require a listener's pity, it is AM/FM. Whether the duo can sustain their Pollard-like rate of production with similarly outstanding results is anyone's guess, but Getting into Sinking certainly suggests listeners should lay bets on that potentiality. © Stanton Swihart /TiVo
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Alternative & Indie - Released November 30, 2004 | Polyvinyl Records

The title of AM/FM's four-song EP The Sky Is the New Ground is a play on the indie mantra "Quiet is the New Loud" that popped up in the early part of the decade. AM/FM isn't particularly quiet, but they are gentle and they make music that reaches for the sky. Their previous album, Getting Into Sinking, was one of the best of 2001 and this EP serves as a sneak preview of their next record. The first track, "Every Start," is a short, melodic instrumental driven by distorted, tremeloed guitar. "Gone in Three" follows and gives AM/FM a chance to show off their quite beautiful vocal harmonies and heavenly falsetto on a short pop song not unlike something on the Shins' fine debut record. "Mrs. Astronaut" is the EP's centerpiece and it is the most ambitious song they've done. It begins with an acoustic guitar intro that is blown away by a wave of distorted guitars and clattering drums that bring to mind the classic shoegazer bands of the early '90s, yet the sound never points inward -- it radiates warmth and heart out of the speakers. The vocals are incredibly warm and real here, too. The lyrics are about outer space, missed connections, and unhappy marriages, and when the song breaks down and it is just Brian Sokol singing the words, "Dear wife, I'm sorry to be/Not the man you expected of me" over the brokenhearted strum of a lone acoustic guitar, the pain is palpable. The final track is another emotional piece. "All to Remember" is a hopeful song that finds Sokol comforting a friend who is "running scared" by telling them that "Everyday you're running I'll be there." The music is a stately wash of new wave synths and that same brokenhearted acoustic guitar strumming away. When the electric guitars kick in halfway through the song, you feel like you are in a John Hughes movie and you just got the girl or boy; as you're walking down the street, the camera zooms in and you've got just the biggest, most hopeful grin smacked on your face. Yeah, it's that good. AM/FM is reaching deep with their music, making emotional music with melodies you want to hear playing at your prom, your wedding, your funeral. Get this EP and get their next record. If it is anything like The Sky Is the New Ground, it will be stuck in your player for weeks. © Tim Sendra /TiVo
CD$12.99

Alternative & Indie - Released November 30, 2004 | Polyvinyl Records

After hearing this debut full-length, it's easy to figure out why Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell called their project AM/FM. Their debut album haphazardly charts 75 years of pop history in the course of its 13 songs, while always sounding like its own ragged, off-kilter self. Mutilate Us seemingly incorporates a little bit of everything -- late-night paeans, open-plains balladeering, glazed-over '70s rock, cluttered indie pop -- then wraps it in a skewered lo-fi package to give it context and date it decidedly to the postmodern 21st century. They are just as capable of turning a cover of the Beach Boys' "Disney Girls" into a wispy, romantic Elliott Smith tune (which they do) or plucking a new wave melody from their memories and mutating it into strummed country crooning. And the wild variety of genres and subgenres collide head-on, creating oddly warped, wire-crossed hybrids, the parts of which are impossible to peel away from one another. "Those Long Arms" turns sh*t-kicker country into indie rock so that the final product doesn't really sound country at all except in fits and starts. The first half of "Yours Recklessly" sounds like a beaten-down, sepia-toned Appalachian ballad by using nothing but skeletal acoustic guitars, woeful Hammond organ, and some heartbreakingly lonesome co-ed harmonies. It feels more poverty-stricken and anguished -- and authentic -- than 100 similar attempts to recreate the harshness of Depression-era balladry, before giving way to its brash pop underside, a metamorphosis that mirrors the mood of the lyrics. The fractured, messy quality of the music conceals its purposefulness. Like the white noise of Pavement or tightly wrapped tics of Guided by Voices -- two bands, incidentally, which AM/FM recall -- the smallest details, moments that could otherwise be construed as accidents, are actually the qualities that end up transforming the songs. "LeAnne, the Seasons Persist," for instance, has a breezy, autumnal soft rock melody, but the percussive clang that runs through the entire song, sounding not unlike a sledgehammer hitting a railway pin, is pure blues -- as, in fact, is the sentiment of the lyrics. The tune itself, though, is nowhere near the blues. Such juxtapositions have a freakishly appealing effect. Mutilate Us is the kind of album that you are glad cannot be pinned down, because to do so would be to delete the quality that makes it so exhilarating and full of surprises. Like all the finest examples of laissez-faire pop, there is enough in each song to keep you returning long after the melody has been burned into your mind. © Stanton Swihart /TiVo