AM/FM go public: Basement tunes come up for air

The banking rumor for Philadelphia’s AM/FM is that they never meant for their four-track songs to leave the basement. According to the story, friends heard, tapes were passed, label deals were made, albums were cut. After a warm reception at 2000’s CMJ Festival, they decided to put all their energies into the transition to becoming a real live band. Accidentally classic.
They may not be the ABBA of disco or the AC/DC of rock, but what they do with their adopted acronym, they do well. The sound is unabashed indie pop. Duo Brian Sokel and Michael Parsell follow the canon of their genre, pinning together common features in new ways. Certain elements, like the dual-channel vocals of Built to Spill or Elliot Smith, the chant-sing delivery of Modest Mouse, and the falsetto dusting of Pavement la-la-las strike the fuzzy tones of familiarity. Their result is nothing overtly new; however, they somehow manage to transcend the simple sum of these parts and avoid sounding mind-numbingly derivative.  
Too many modern complaints from too many bands can be overbearing; it’s nice to hear a group whose energy is satisfied, well-fed, peaking in handclaps. Like label-mates Sunday’s Best, AM/FM easily slings a catchy happiness. And judging by the boyish looks of the two principals, it would take only a clean oxford and clip-on to put them in the church pew or at brunch at the Boar’s Head.  
But what sets them apart from the yawners are the lyrics– slightly absurd and too dark for the wholesome, Ivory-soap harmonies. While listening to their 2000 album, Mutilate Us (case in point), I started envisioning synchronized dance routines on the Downtown Mall, mimes juggling flaming bowling pins, etc... Yes, strange stuff. In “Secretly Odds in Knowing Normal Worlds,” for example, they admonish a young couple veering towards a Cronenberg-style death pact, “Shopping malls and mothballs / two figure eights in a couple of dates/ Broken dreams / Broken knees… sometimes love is better.”   
Maybe it’s time to put that crazy little thing called thanatos out to pasture. AM/FM seem to be at the intersection of youthful exuberance and technical skill, and I can see a lot of people identifying with their nostalgia for a time when tire swings were more fun than failed first loves. I’m interested to see how they plan to put the richness of their basement studio dubbings on stage; given the current state of human cloning technology, I’m assuming the two will be enlisting some friends instead to help fill out the sound at Tokyo Rose on the September 16.

AM/FM join Gregor Samsa and Order of the Dying Orchid at Tokyo Rose Monday, September 16, at 10pm. $5.

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