Back in the early 1990’s, a little band called Red House Painters was having a tough time getting recognition. At the time they were playing the Bay Area circuit for 2 years, but lucky for them a fan of the band, Mark Eitzel of American Music Club, caught them at a show, and approached them after. Mark Kozelek was a fan of the band, and since Eitzel was so impressed with their show, he pulled the strings to get the band in the studio as soon as he could. Thus was born Down Colorful Hill. But what of American Music Club? They started their career back in ‘86 with little recognition in the states, but a sort of cult following in Europe with their record California. They continued releasing mostly ignored material until 1995 when they split up.
Obviously, a reunion occurred hence this review, but the sad thing is that the reunion spawned a rather haphazard comeback record, dismissing them from any previous fan. And yet here they are, 4 years later, with The Golden Age; an album of arid and heartwarming tones, preserving Eitzel’s style of splattering his emotion straight on the record through his lyrics. So why now, out of their 20 year career should you begin your dive into their music? Because you’re missing out on some of the most honest and professional songs in America’s rock/folk underground.
If you recall Elvis Costello’s King of America, you witnessed a completely stripped down record following his more eclectic releases, such as Truth, but you also know it was one of his most worthwhile recordings. This is a similar path AMC have taken. They somewhat abandon a chaotic and hectic structure to venture into an intimate, indoor club setting. Among the fog of the passive negative atmosphere flies fluttering, dreamlike acoustics and steady drum patterns, inducing a very calm, yet somewhat dark, feeling where the lyrics are your lullabies for the night.
In fact, the lyrics are one of the main highlights of the album. Eitzel has mastered his own personal palette of poetry, depending on the music to create the uplifting mood while he croons on about personal stories of hopelessness, all negative forms of love, and those skeletons we wish to veil. His writing style makes it seem like there is no exaggeration, and he can somehow place any certain event in his life straight on paper with great detail.
Decibels and little pills and all the thrills you steal from the moon
holding hands, bright new friends, names are only good for gravestones
because he was sweet and so was she and you need that love to fill the dark
but time is a current that only flows from warms hands to warm hearts
but no one here will ever save you
Many of the lyrics you cannot simply take out an excerpt because of their attribute of being a part of the rest of the song, meaning they have more effect when taken in all at once. This could be a good or bad thing depending on how you take in a record, but either way the lyrics are able to stand alone.
That’s not to say the music’s dreary and forgetful. On the contrary, in addition to the foundation of the acoustics, you have sparse areas of keyboards/organs, a bit of accordion, marching band brass, and Vudi’s keen habits of adding guitar effects. Vudi uses them to bring the atmospherics to new levels, especially on the track The Windows on the World. Starting below the mix, he incorporates these violent, wind-like sounds played on guitar, and throughout the song brings them to louder and louder levels to contradict the carefree chord progressions. He uses distortion sparingly, but when does it adds a sort of modern folk feel to the song, an interesting combination with the older lounge, even some of The Damned techniques (see the solo in The Dance).
Unfortunately the album starts falls apart for the last two songs. They lack variation from the rest of the album and don’t really have the grabbing hands pulling you into a setting that the other songs embellish. Aside from that, the album serves its purpose as a fluctuating folk novel settling your heartbeat while it loses your soul adrift the scenery. Enjoy the trip.