The singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist AM was raised in Mandeville and graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans. AM himself is usually careful to mention his Crescent City soul influences, but Future Sons and Daughters, his third full-length release, bears a much deeper imprint from the other LA. Recorded and mastered on Santa Monica Boulevard, Future Sons and Daughters is drenched in Southern California sunshine. It prominently features ukulele and synthesizers; it wants to dress in paisley, point the car down the freeway, and crank up the car stereo’s amplitude modulation band.
The album’s title notwithstanding, its dreamy, flower-child pop music comes from the past. It suggests a diverse musical heritage, from the European synth bands AM has toured with to the Brazilian pop legend Jorge Ben, for whom the tenth track is titled. Most prominently, though, AM’s sound here recalls Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Its second track, “The Other Side,” makes that clear. The composition’s structures, along with its main verses’ chord progression, arrangement and melody are nearly direct quotes from Albert Hammond’s 1972 “It Never Rains in Southern California.” On that same song’s bridge, though, AM departs from the L.A. pop canon in a way that makes clear that this isn’t simply an exercise in derivation.
With the recent success of acts like Mayer Hawthorne and Sharon Jones, “retro” is steadily becoming something of an easy move for musicians, and it doesn’t always pay off. Old recording equipment and techniques, nostalgic designs and familiar song structures can sometimes be less than their sum. Here, though, AM’s beautifully crafted arrangements and the breadth of his carefully deployed sonic palette are retro-pop at its best. He gets at the tradition’s historical essence, and makes clear that he’s got something to add.