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Artist: Ammi 
Label: Common Cloud Records
Time: 12 tracks / 43:50 min.

Don’t let the title fool you.

With their new CD, Imitation, Ammi manages to breathe a breath of fresh air into the somewhat stagnant atmosphere surrounding both the CCM establishment, and—yes, the indie scene, as well (yes, Virginia— ‘indies’ can be bad, too!). 

I’m happy to report that Ammi has put out a collection of songs that are basically free from the musical cliches that, unfortunately, I’ve come to expect upon hearing a ‘new’ band for the first time. Right from the first track, “Mechanique,” we get a hard driving, basic rock beat diving into a cleanly-produced, sparse, in-your-face bass, drum, and guitar riff that will have your head bopping before you realize it. When the vocal joins in to complete the sound, you know that this is a band that’s determined to make its own statement, regardless of what everyone else is doing.

What’s refreshing about he sound of Aami, is that there are many musical choices that the band has made that sets them apart from much of the current scene. Once again, referencing the opening track: the pounding drum, bass, and guitar sound almost primal in simplicity and power - then the song opens up into a section sounding (to me, anyway) very reminiscent of The Call’s early work—suddenly there are churning chords and passionate vocals that sound like a combination of Steve Scott (rock poet / prophet from the early days, often backed up by the likes of The 77s and Vector) and Michael Been. This surprising moment is followed by an instrumental bridge that has bass and guitar lines ascending and reaching a frenzied snare drum / electronic noise passage, then back into that wonderful passionate vocal section again. A trumpet solo (yes, trumpet ….but it’s all very cool!) then becomes incorporated into all of this, and rides the song out to a somewhat jazzy ending of a very unique, but certainly accessible, song. What Aami shows us, is that they have an understanding, not just of what’s happening musically today, but also of what’s gone on before—they seem to carry a musical legacy into the songs that they’ve created, and carry it into the moment, and make it new.

The music on _Imitation_ is tight and, for the most part, free of production tricks, . Aami is a basic four-piece band, consisting of Nate Gass (lead guitar, background vocals), Kris Kuss( drums), Philip Vickers (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), and Andrew Wulf (bass guitar, background vocals), with occasional help by Gordon Persha and Mat Holman, on organ and trumpet, respectively. Don’t let the extras fool you—this is basically a tight, ‘punch-in-the-gut’ little band.

The basic elements of the music, including the vocals, are recorded very ‘up front’ with little processing or effects. The songs are compact and forceful, full of interesting tempo changes and staccato rhythms, great examples of which can be found on “Persuasion,” “The Circus,” and, along with some wonderfully dissonant guitar, on “Screwtape.” The sixth track, “The Somnambulist,” slows the project down to an appropriately dreamy waltz (featuring interesting organ / trumpet phrases), and is followed by the slow, heavy title track, “Imitation,” which offers us the wonderful lyric, “It’s not what you think—it’s who thinks it for you,” intoned in an eerily Steve Scott-like manner.

The lyrics hover somewhere between interesting and awkward—but they are never syrupy or typical. While the band doesn’t shine a spotlight on its Christianity, there are strong messages here about the dangers of blindly accepting what society dishes out to you, as in the title track, and the deceptions and lies that are all around you, as in“Screwtape.” “The Circus,” with its nightmare-carnival motifs, points to the pitfalls of the drug culture: “...everyone will like you—everyone will be like you ….that’s what Jimmy says….” If these messages could be put into a scenario, it would be as a response to the second track—a 45 second song with a narrative about a boy with two friends who are pulling him in two opposite directions. The last lines of the narrative, in fact, are: “and there he sits, and there we’ll start…” although this is by no means a ’concept album,’ this track, “The Story of Jason Jackson,” does give some of the songs that follow a kind of reason-for-being.

Imitation closes with a wonderful track called “Ascent of the Prodigal,” which acts as a coda to the entire work, providing the “Selah” to what’s gone before—a place to stop, reflect, and consider what you’ve just heard. Like Mute Math’s “Stall Out,” this song is a gentle exit from the considerably harder music that went before: the repetition of the words, “I am going to the bright sky leaving nothing behind, I am coming from the night sky leaving nothing behind,” render “Ascent of the Prodigal” one of the more spiritually intriguing songs on the CD. 

Ammi has produced a refreshing departure from the current sounds on the market. While ‘refreshing’ doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘great,’ Imitation is a CD worthy of hearing, and full of potential for very promising future efforts. If there is weakness, it would be that the band might be lacking in showing a personal face in their work—Aami quoted C.S. Lewis in the song-title, “Screwtape.” ….but they might not be able to really break through, ‘til, as Lewis might say, “they have faces.” 

By Bert Saraco …



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