CD Review: American Music Club

The Golden Age Merge
Music •••• Sound •••½

Generous, affirmative, openhearted: These aren't the first words that come to mind when the songs of American Music Club and its cheerless leader, Mark Eitzel, are under discussion. But they broadly apply to The Golden Age, the band's second album since reuniting in 2004. That's not to say Eitzel has coughed up a cheerful batch of songs - just that instead of being colored by depressive barfly fatalism, he engages the world from a more clear-headed perspective, and this attitude adjustment makes all the difference.

Eitzel himself describes the album as "a kind of antidote to cynicism and irony" - and when did you ever think you'd put on an AMC record for a dose of that? In a sense, it's fitting that the contrarian Eitzel would embrace light when nearly everyone else feels overcome by darkness. In any case, The Golden Age is dreamy, airy, and full of beautifully muted acoustic textures.

"I'll be the match that holds your fire . . . if I can give you all my love," Eitzel sings in an open, empathetic voice over guitarist Vudi's gentle arpeggios. Tribute is paid to Eitzel's reclaimed hometown in two songs, "All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco" and "The Grand Duchess of San Francisco." Both have an easy, understated gait enlivened by Eitzel's sly wit and sharp eye. In the former, over a warm, brassy groove, he sings of "trying to keep the good times rolling / Because they're almost gone."

A similar note of offhand realism informs "The Windows on the World." It's more than just an elegy for New York City after the Twin Towers fell, as it homes in on the fact that something larger seems to be hanging in the balance: "Isn't it beautiful? Doesn't it feel like the end of the world?" Doom and gloom never sounded so inevitable (or welcome) as on this remarkable song, so intimately detailed and yet so grandly all-encompassing. Toward the end, Vudi's guitar (particularly his painterly use of feedback) provides a mounting animation of collapse - not just of buildings but also of our supposed invulnerability. "Isn't it beautiful"? In a weird way, it is.

The Golden Age is full of invigorating quirks, like the forceful, punky two-step of "I Know That's Not Really You" and the quasi-comic but ultimately compassionate snapshot of misfits amid misfits in "The Decibels and the Little Pills." The reconstituted American Music Club - essentially Eitzel and Vudi plus a solid new rhythm section - has matched and even surpassed its prior incarnation, and Eitzel's words have never cut so deep or rung so true. The point is that he doesn't just sound good. He sounds well.

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