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Looking backwards

Joseph Hein transports you to the amber-hued '70s on AM Gold

Joseph Hein makes lush, country-tinged pop that’s bursting with warmth. Photo credit: Tristan Paiige

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There's an unusual phenomenon that can sometimes happen when it comes to compiling and distributing music. The act of putting a collection of unrelated songs on one release has the ability to retroactively link the songs forever, and in the process, create a new subgenre. While this is a rare occurrence, to be sure, there are several precedents that have been set, over the years. Most notably, we have the case of Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Ere, 1965-1968. This compilation, released in 1972, assembled a staggering group of early psych and garage rock. In the years that followed, it would become something of a short-hand to refer to new songs that shared a similar vibe to those songs as "Nuggets-esque."

In an even narrower example, we have C86, a tiny-yet-influential subgenre that denotes a sort of jangly, upbeat, guitar-centric form of mainly British indie pop. The name comes from C86, a cassette compilation put out in 1986 by NME. Though the term may seem exceedingly specific, it's served as a handy starting point in describing a whole generation of indie bands. Something a bit more nebulous is the genre of AM Gold, which also gets its name from a series of compilations released in the ‘90s by Time Life. The modest goal of these compilations was to collect radio hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s, usually erring toward warm soft-rock. Like those bands influenced by Nuggets, you know an AM Gold band when you hear it.

When it comes to Joseph Hein, though, he took the guesswork out of it by naming his most recent album AM Gold. Even before you listen to a second of the album, Hein lets you know precisely where he's coming from with the album art: a bird in silhouette, perched on a dock, as a sun sets in the background. It's enough to give you flashbacks to a million cheesy karaoke videos, or the endless procession of songs that would scroll up the screen of a Time Life infomercial. Once you press play on the first track, appropriately titled "Looking Backwards," you are plunged into a world where everything is amber-hued and the ‘80s never happened.

It's the nature of the AM Gold beast that anyone trying to capture that sound is in danger of succumbing to its innate cheesiness. Hein, for his part, effortlessly walks that line, evoking the aura of that era while creating music that doesn't have the must that usually accompanies things emerging from a time capsule. The 12 songs on AM Gold draw mainly from the harmonious, country-tinged radio pop of the ‘70s, gaining a catchy pull from the four-on-the-floor beat that would come to define the late ‘70s. Hein doesn't limit himself to one particular time in music, though, as evidenced by the ‘50s pop swing of "Countless Nights."

There's a humidity to the songs on AM Gold, a dreaminess that helps to transport the listener to another time and place. Hein is uniquely effective at setting a mood, allowing the listener to be set adrift, to get lost in thought, never realizing how much they may be involuntarily tapping their toe. Hein performs much of the music himself, for the recording, but recruits musicians to join him on tour. With the lushness of AM Gold, you'd be forgiven for not suspecting that it was largely the work of one man; these songs are full and open, creating their own little worlds while never overstaying their welcome. In a live setting, it may be hard to re-create this polished sound, but Hein and company will surely bring these songs to life.

JOSEPH HEIN, w/ Sawtooth, Montgomery Brown and the Orchestra of Dust, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6, all ages, cover TBA, Cascadia Brewing Co., 211 4th Ave. E., Olympia, 360.943.2337,

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