Wednesday, July 9, 2008

American Music Club -- The Golden Age (2008)

American Music Club -- The Golden Age (Merge)

The second AMC album for Merge is another winner. Songwriter extraordinaire Mark Eitzel and guitarist Vudi are on their game as usual, for an album that is a bit more subdued than the last one (Love Songs For Patriots), but is full of interesting stories and observations.

This is an album that slowly reveals itself. The initial songs are inviting and languid, mellow and gently played. Vudi’s guitar fills abet Eitzel’s controlled vocals. Things are as decadent as ever, with Eitzel noting that “no one here will ever save you” on “Decibels and Little Pills” and opening the album with the line “I wish we were always high”. That could be the opening line to a Hold Steady album!

Actually, there is a common thread between the bands. Both use fairly accessible rock music to support lyrics that look at the seamier side of life. The aforementioned “Little Pills” is a gentle, loping track. If you removed the vocals, a lot of people would find it to be an exceedingly pleasant piece of light California rock. But it’s the tension between the lyrics and the soothing music that makes American Music Club what it is.

San Francisco is integral to two tracks on the album. I’m not sure if Mayor Newsom will adopt “All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Franscisco” as a tourism anthem, as Eitzel notes that it’s a city built for “firetrucks/and skeletons who grin and grin/pimps and thieves who can’t believe their luck.” Nevertheless, this is mellow magic with a bit of a ‘70s jazz-rock vibe, from the insistent electric piano part to the light horn accompaniment.

“The Grand Duchess of San Francisco” is a whole ‘nother animal. This is a poignant character study about a woman who is trapped in a lifestyle, holding court at a dance club every night. The life of the party, certainly, but with not much going on at the center. Eitzel’s empathy comes through loud and clear.

Eitzel has plenty of stories to tell. My favorite is “The Windows to the World”. This track is the ultimate in world weariness. Eitzel starts off at a party in New York City getting high, looking at the world from the top of a tall building. In this song, hedonism collides with true depth, leaving Eitzel contemplating the contradiction. Something is wrong with us if we intoxicate ourselves and overlook the splendor around us, captured by the lines, “Mark, if you’re so goddamn smart/why do tourists always wanna get so high?”

Yeah, some of this sounds depressing. But the music and Eitzel’s voice convey emotions that keep things from getting too hopeless. If rock music is about taking your problems and dancing all over them, as Pete Townshend once posited, American Music Club allows you to dance with them and perhaps see them in a different light. Or at least realize that your problems aren’t as bad as the folks Mark Eitzel is singing about.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nic review. thanks.