Haunted by what never was—and yet will always be—AM gathers ghostly sounds from radios commonly used in Cold War espionage. Copy or not, CC plays crackerjack sleuth to perfection. Across 30 short tracks, armed with antenna for magnifying glass, the gumshoe probes memories displaced by culture’s progress.
AM is an audio-visual project by Michael C Coldwell, aka CC, a sound artist from Leeds, UK. Paradoxically, the album affirms what it denies. While declaring the demise of shortwave radio, CC employs the same medium wagered in his argument, thus proving its resilience.
During the “Golden Age of Radio”—which reigned for 30 years—the American sportscaster Red Barber noted how the world seemed to shrink. However, consumption grew alongside illusions of unity. By the time TV assumed the throne in the 1950s, diversion replaced community.
Despite its decline, shortwave serves many functions: military communication, air traffic control, disaster relief, and even education. To this day, the secret broadcasts from number stations remain a mystery for spy enthusiasts. Like an all-hearing witness, shortwave illuminates a void without vacancy (where sound and light both share the same mother).
Shortwave radios are cheap, durable, and difficult to censor; they’re also prone to interference. AM celebrates its Achilles’ heel, mulching debris—beating signals through static—into haunting morning sonnets.
Tearing wormholes between stations, “Etherwave” rides barrels towards neon shores—toes on the nose all the way—while “Sleep Time” rocks a Casio lullaby sweet enough to swaddle. Meanwhile, fit for a sci-fi soundtrack, “Beat Frequency Oscillator” pummels with industrial clamor: bass rattles ribcage; treble sprays from leaky sprinkler.
Elsewhere, pop songs and talk shows receive hearty treatments. Bellowed vocals prowl midnight alleys on “The Eavesdropper,” with cool synths swooshing beneath flickering street lights. “Jolene Drowning” smothers a Dolly Parton classic in pumice, shredding the soprano into vapor. Making more sense than the evangelist it samples, “Spiritual Nonsense” slowly crescendos, spinning wind-whipped melodies around lunar phrases.
As thematic title, AM references both a means of radio communication (amplitude modulation), and ideal listening time (ante meridiem—right before dawn). From the greeting of “Good Morning Radio,” Morse code chattering with dawn’s songbirds, to the eulogy of “Dead Air,” lashing static hushed only after powering down the receiver, AM traces shapes of silence within shapeless space.
Excepting—and accepting—just one point: for Conflux Coldwell, pricked by forensic phenomenology, there is no dead air—just the pop-fuzz of buried messages. In the land of electric-powered memories, Hertz haunt hearse and morgue. Yes, radio may languish a slow demise. But only what lives seeks energy. Only what remains leaves sound. (Todd B. Gruel)