ALBUM REVIEW: Amo Amo deliver hazy, algorithm-friendly debut

Amo Amo’s debut has its moments, but is too content to get lost in the background

Technology has made our world more interconnected than ever. Our phones and laptops make information more readily accessible more quickly than any time in human history. That subsequent deluge of content is exciting, but often overwhelming – impressive and oppressive all at once. At risk of overload, we seem to rely on curation – algorithmic and human – to guide our way, more than ever before.

Nowhere is this more evident than streaming-based listening habits. The internet and file-sharing made any and all music available – parsing through more or less the entirety of recorded music’s history to find the next artist of interest is, in a word, daunting. Playlists and platform-suggested choices have simplified the task of what to listen to next; after we choose a jumping-off point, Spotify makes discoveries for us. Vibes are more easily maintained, and most importantly, the music never stops unless we tell it to.

The self-titled debut from LA’s Amo Amo, who bill themselves as “psychedelic dream pop”, is not without intrigue. The band, composed of singer Love Femme, Omar Velasco, Shane McKillops (a member of Gardens & Villa), Justin Flint and Alex Siegel, are seasoned veterans of the city’s music scene. The recording sessions, helmed by Jim James (of My Morning Jacket fame), took place in an old house in the vineyards north of Santa Barbara. Devoid of cell phone signal and internet, the group was free to experience a rarity in the modern world – true escape.

With nothing to distract them from the music, the band laid down eight unwaveringly professional, beautifully recorded songs that continue the tradition of indie music’s decade-plus long fascination with 1970s AM dial soft rock and blue-eyed soul. Unfortunately, for all their soft-focus allure, Amo Amo (out Apr. 26) is emblematic of the mixed results of that attraction – for every triumph, like Ariel Pink’s cover of Joe and Donnie Emerson’s “Baby”, there’s plenty of songs that sail a little too smoothly. That sonics-over-songs trend continues here, on an album full of lovely textures that rarely coheres into something more.

Opener “Closer to You” begins with honey-dipped harmonies before laying into a relaxed, reggae-lite groove. While enlivened by some capable vocal runs from Love Femme, it remains a little too content with its immediate surroundings. “When I Look at You” recalls Tame Impala’s music evolution, from 2015’s Currents to the present, from choppier auditory seas towards calmer harbors, riding a chunky bass groove, keyboard accents, warm lead guitar runs, and a pleasant atmosphere to…nowhere.

“When We’re Gone” doubles down on Tame Impala® keyboard atmospheres and vocal effects and keeps them strictly in the background, wrapped in gauzy reverb. A four-on-the-floor kick drum is insistent but muffled and the song is intent to float along before, a little over halfway through, the album’s first genuinely exciting moment occurs – the lead guitar line picks up volume, the musicians kick in harder, and the band decides to fly rather than levitate.

“Antidote” takes the momentum and runs with it, relying on a fluid groove, a speak-sing melody, smooth keys, and the album’s first real chorus to take things up a notch. It’s a funky, soulful slow burner that Femme told Billboard was about “connecting your mind with your body through movement.” It more than makes good on that promise.

“The Only Thing I Got to Live For is Love” brings back the marijuana haze, and despite typically impressive vocal performances, is mostly five-plus directionless minutes, with an outro guitar solo providing a welcome respite from the meandering. “Teacher” could be a Currents b-side – it mainly stands out for the slight curveball of its male-led vocal.

Penultimate track “I Wish I Had the Power” gets things back on track. It’s a danceable and delightfully smooth high point, approximating the lived-in grooves of What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye. That feeling nearly carries over to album closer “Echoes Just Begun”, which sees Femme don her best Angel Olsen impression amidst some clever sonic touches – synths that buzz and squelch, guitar lines from the XX’s playbook – before hitting an energetic crescendo that surprises, if only for its energy relative to most of what preceded it.

Amo Amo is by no means a bad album. It invites the listener in using producer James’ band My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves as the blueprint, wrapping the music in a cozy but crisply recorded blanket of reverb. The rhythm section benefits most noticeably from the sense of analog warmth, receiving treatment that would please headphone and hi-fi enthusiasts (if those still exist). It’s a record chock-full of languid, sunstroked psychedelia that will play well at the mid-afternoon slot of a festival near you.

But Amo Amo, like so much of modern music, ultimately feels like something built for the background – a sync-licenser’s dream, playlist fodder perfect for soundtracking your party, study session, commute, and clothing store shopping experience. On an album of mostly anonymous lyrics, one line from “When I Look at You” stands out – “Your beauty’s never-ending / I can get lost in you forever.” It’s both a refrain and a thesis statement for an album that never quite moves past its surface-level gorgeousness to somewhere more interesting and resonant. And maybe, just maybe, with the way we listen to music now, it doesn’t have to.

You can catch Amo Amo live at a number of festivals this summer, including northern California festivals High Sierra and Outside Lands. They also open for My Morning Jacket at Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Aug. 3.

Words by Andrew Ledford