There’s a particular sort of anxiety one can get when handed an aux cable and asked to play some music. Who are you picking for, and how many are in your audience? Are you in a car? At a party? Do you play what you want and damn the rest, or try to be a good DJ and pick something everybody will enjoy? Three years ago Young Gun Silver Fox single handedly solved the dilemma with their impossible-to-dislike debut album, West End Coast. Now, with AM Waves, the low-key superduo continue their unchallenged mastery of bright, undeniably delightful yacht rock – though one may at times wish there had been just a little bit of challenge for the crown.
Young Gun Silver Fox (respectively: Andy Platts of Mamas Gun and Shawn Lee of countless projects), a paean to the days when soft rock ruled the waves, feels like a true passion project. That’s a nice way of saying that nobody asked for it, or would have even known to ask for it. Is there a massive cultural outcry for a modernized, funkified tribute to McDonald-era Doobie Brothers, Beach Boys, or Hall & Oates? Maybe not, but Platts and Lee are following their own singular muse here, and the end result is sublime, defying description by virtue of its simplicity. It’s the sound of happy seaside reminiscences, of the sun hitting the surf but not getting in your eyes, of mimosas before noon, all embodied in spacious vocal harmonies, tight grooves and undeniable hooks.
And yet, as bright and delightful though AM Waves may be, there’s a real sense of the deep, shattering melancholy intrinsic to that sort of nostalgia that wasn’t present on the previous album. So many of these songs are about seeking a brighter past to which one can never return (“Midnight in Richmond”), or feeling unable to face a gloomy, uncertain future (“Lenny”). It’s a rather devastating subtext to the album, one made all the more powerful for being buried beneath the same fun, funky vibe of Young Gun Silver Fox’s debut.
That said, if there’s one thing to ding this album on (and, really, there only is this one thing), it’s that the text hasn’t evolved in quite the same way as the subtext. AM Waves is perhaps a teeny bit groovier, dare I say Vulfpeck-ier than its predecessor (“Underdog” being exhibit A), but on the whole there’s little to distinguish the three years since their first release. The flip side of Young Gun Silver Fox filling such a unique, passionate niche is that there’s little competition that might force them to innovate, as all of their favorite and most-cited inspirations had. Consider, for instance, the rather dramatic evolution of The Doobie Brothers (boy, there’s a sentence I never expected to write), and compare that to Young Gun Silver Fox’s relative stasis.
Consider it, and then ask yourself: is that a ding? Barely, I’d say, if at all. Much as I would have loved to hear some bigger swings from this sophomore album, that might be entirely contrary to the spirit of Young Gun Silver Fox. There are plenty of bands whose stylistic evolutions are marginal, that instead triumph by cornering a market and owning it. If Young Gun Silver Fox want to be, say, the Mötörhead of yacht rock, AM Waves is proof positive that such a lofty (if counterintuitive) title is well within their grasp. This is an album for high moods and low, good days and bad, and a sure contender for album of the year. So go right on ahead and reach for the aux cable. Things are about to get sunny up in here.
Notable Tracks: “Midnight in Richmond”; “Lenny”; “Caroline”
FFO:The Doobie Brothers,The Beach Boys, Hall & Oates