AM’s artist homepage currently features a couple of updates designed to let the reader know what he (yes, AM is one person) was listening to when he made his latest album, Future Sons & Daughters. It’s a fairly eclectic list: there’s some Turkish folk, Ennio Morricone, and most appropriately, Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky representing the most mainstream album listed as an influence. The list is all the more surprising considering how thoroughly middle of the road Future Sons & Daughters turned out. It’s an album of unchallenging AM radio pop (his self-ascribed moniker is honest, to be fair) played with the bare minimum of enthusiasm.
No one is questioning whether or not AM is actually a fan of these obscure records (certainly not the disappointingly bland Sky Blue Sky), but there’s something faintly desperate about listing a bunch of esoteric albums as influences on your homepage. It could be that AM is acutely aware of the fact that these influences barely register, if they register at all, and therefore they require specific highlighting. In case you don’t bother to check his website, there’s a track on Future Sons & Daughters called “Jorge Ben,” lest you, the listener, are unaware of how awesome AM’s record collection is.
Funnily enough, “Jorge Ben” might be the one song on Future Sons & Daughters that offers unqualified enjoyment, mainly because it’s an entirely instrumental track. Though “Jorge Ben” doesn’t exactly call to mind the Tropicalia favored by the inimitable Brazilian pop singer, a wordless homage goes a long way to stifling a couple of the chronic problems with Future Sons & Daughters. For starters, an instrumental track means no vocals from AM. While AM is never out of tune, and there are certainly far worse singers in the world, he sings with such an absence of energy that a great deal of the perfectly competently written and arranged songs on this record never get off the ground.
What’s more, no vocals means no lyrics. Again, to qualify my criticism, this is another department where AM is far from terrible, but he is too quick to rely on modified clichés and didactic bohemian tropes. “Everyone’s racing/ Nobody’s winning,” AM reminds us on the instructively titled, “Ending is Beginning.” Elsewhere, AM feels it necessary to remind the listener that “desire and need almost never agree.” It’s bizarre to be lectured to with such imperious mellowness.
But for the occasional pretenses of ethereal headiness and mild preachiness combined with a misguided notion of how cosmopolitan Future Sons & Daughters actually is, AM seems well intentioned. A little too well intentioned. The lack of urgency in his voice seems to indicate a desire to avoid offending anyone, and the jangly, uncomplicated arrangements push a conception of pop that should be familiar to anyone born after 1950. Sometimes he gets it right, as on “Darker Days,“ which finds AM utilizing strings to effectively sweep the listener into the chorus. Usually though, when he stumbles upon a good instrumental hook, such as the synthesizer line that trails the chorus of “When the Dust Settles,” that hook will repeat ad nauseam. The melodies are easy to hum along to, mainly because AM’s chord progressions follow such a recognizable path. Still, Future Sons & Daughters is free of truly bad songs, but it’s difficult not to notice that every compliment it deserves comes hitched to a modifier.