American Music Club
California


4.5
superb

Review

by DoofusWainwright CONTRIBUTOR (62 Reviews)
February 29th, 2016 | 37 replies


Release Date: 1988 | Tracklist

Review Summary: California yes, but a long way from Californication

The rock landscape of the late 80’s was marked by wildly disparate scenes; in one corner sat the glam metal bands, all hairspray, silver trays of blow and golden haired blowjobs; in another you had a slowly evolving alternative rock scene populated by young men with heavy consciences and weary hearts who’d rather have died than be caught with a pair of leather kecks around their ankles and a line of groupies stretching half way round the block. It would take a few more years and the arrival of spiritual leader Kurt Cobain before the latter fully weaponised their attack and supplanted the former, so as it stood, for four or five years both groups coexisted in an uneasy state of disharmony.

At the vanguard of this alternative scene were the likes of R.E.M and Hüsker Dü, bands who wrote introspective, frequently socially conscious lyrics, but still remembered how much fun it is to plug in a guitar and play it loud. As is ever the case with new musical movements soon subsets emerged on the fringes who wanted to drive this sound into more niche directions; some like The Field Mice pushed the fey jangle element as far as it could stretch while others took a gloomier path, accentuating the most miserabilist ticks of the genre and building from there.

These depressive acts were labelled pioneers of ‘slowcore’ or ‘sadcore’, titles that leave the uninitiated in no doubt they’re about to come into contact with a particularly virulent strain of the unhappy times. American Music Club were the low burning leading lights of this breakaway faction and in Mark Eitzel boasted a singer who sounded so wounded, awkward and alcohol dependent that it would have been a stretch for the listener to imagine him raising a smile, let alone an erection. For surely AMC are the sound of early onset impotence, whisky induced incontinence and romantic inadequates calling their exes from the drying out centre.

All of which is a quite wonderful thing and by 1988 the band were well on their way, having successfully established their winning sad-sack credentials over the course of two formative albums chock-full of songs about bitter regrets and resigning yourself to watching the few remaining friends you have slowly drink themselves to death. The only problem was that the band’s close buddies R.E.M were mobilising for a full on mainstream assault while they were still stuck at first base; time to play catch-up.

AMC’s response was ‘California’, a necessary exercise in tightening up the band’s sound and raising their song writing game. In particular the album would include a handful of tracks of such outstanding quality they would come to define Eitzel’s entire career. 'Western Sky’ lives up to the Nick Drake association the title alludes to, Mark’s vocals striking the perfect balance between strident richness and intimate softness. Pedal steel guitar has rarely sounded more beautiful than it does on album opener ‘Firefly’, most probably the only love song to ever successfully rhyme ‘paralyse’ with ‘anaesthetise’.

Equally impressive are the finger-picked vignettes ‘Jenny’ and ‘Last Harbour’, and along with the bleak yet dulcet ‘Blue & Grey Shirt’ and ‘Laughing Stock’ these songs together form a core of classics. The remaining material may drop a shade or two in quality but nonetheless play their part, helping to flesh out the album with some more varied textures and tempos; a couple of songs approximate a ‘countrified Smiths’ aesthetic (‘Now You’re Defeated’, ‘Pale Skinny Girl’) while others pay homage to early years R.E.M at their most rocking (‘Somewhere’, ‘Highway 5’).

‘California’ was a critical success and encouraged AMC to take a true swing for mainstream acceptance on the follow-up releases ‘Everclear’ and ‘Mercury’, two albums that saw the production polish ramped up to the nth degree. The approach nearly paid off with Eitzel winning a Rolling Stone songwriter award based on the strength of his work on ‘Everclear’; however on the one crucial indicator of commercial longevity, sales, they still came up short. As a result AMC slowly faded into relative obscurity and are now looked back at as a cult act, well-regarded also-rans. Clearly there was a limit to how much navel-gazing the public at large could take but it should still be remembered that AMC played their part in winning the war against 80’s douche-bag decadence.



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user ratings (36)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Roll up roll up fans of The Smiths, R.E.M, Mark Kozelek, etc

Digging: Gong - Flying Teapot

Spacesh1p
February 29th 2016


4288 Comments


Great review. Tried this out a couple weeks ago and it didn't do a ton for me but I'll give it another go.

Digging: Peste Noire - Ballade cuntre lo Anemi francor

Mort.
February 29th 2016


11525 Comments


brilliant review doof, sounds interesting

Speaking of Kozelek i finally listened to his version of You Are Not My Blood and decided the Cult Leader version is way better

Digging: Every Time I Die - Low Teens

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Cheers Spacesh1p, I expect it's a grower for most, esp if you like a bit of that late 80's scene.



Thanks Mort, I like me some Kozelek but that doesn't mean that occasionally his performances fall a bit flat. I can totally imagine the Cult Leader version being better seeing as it's a mighty fine track

anatelier
February 29th 2016


902 Comments


Excellent work. Completely unfamiliar, but I'll definitely have a peep. Was never fond of The Smiths and I'm neither here nor there on Kozelek but I do rate R.E.M so we'll see.

"American Music Club were the leading dimly lit lights of this breakaway faction"
Not certain about the phrase "dimly lit lights".



Digging: Klangstof - Close Eyes To Exit

Spacesh1p
February 29th 2016


4288 Comments


I think the phrase is ok but now that you've brought it to my attention it seems a slightly odd way to describe the "breakaway faction." However this is a tiny nitpick in a quality write up.

Spacesh1p
February 29th 2016


4288 Comments


Also I rated this? That's surprising, gonna wipe for now.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thanks anatelier



That phrase was intended to be awkward and jokey, only in a scene labelled 'sadcore' could people label something dimly lit as a leading light was the idea



Saying that perhaps 'dimly lit leading lights' does the job without hurting everyone's eyes quite so much

anatelier
February 29th 2016


902 Comments


No I did get it, it was more the redundancy of 'lit light' that I had trouble with. 'Dimmed down leading lights', or something to that effect, could read better.

Like Spacesh1p said, it's only a very small detail.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I toyed with just 'dim leading lights' but I thought people would have read that like I'm questioning the band's intelligence :D

Sinternet
February 29th 2016


8084 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks for reminding me this existed, band is way too underrated



solid review anyway

Digging: Regina Spektor - Remember Us To Life

anatelier
February 29th 2016


902 Comments


You could try 'dull' and have it read as though they're boring

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

'Low burning leading lights' - still has the L in there for Low too



Thank f'ck, I was ready to nuke that sentence to oblivion

Spacesh1p
February 29th 2016


4288 Comments


That makes more sense, what you're getting at now. Hate it when that happens...you know what idea you want but the words just don't quite fit together.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
February 29th 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Thx Sint, nice rating



Anatelier - interesting opinion on The Smiths, in total agreement but just a heads up that we're in the minority on this site. Big time.

anatelier
February 29th 2016


902 Comments


Yeah, I just find them a bit of a gimmick. Miserable music for the well-to-do.

anatelier
February 29th 2016


902 Comments


'Somewhere' is a fantastic track.

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
March 1st 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The band tended to put one rocker on each of their later albums and 'somewhere' is the best of them



On 'Everclear' you have 'Rise', on 'Mercury' its 'Challenger', and on 'San Francisco' you have the most commercial one 'Wish the World Away'



Would have been interesting if they had tried to do a whole album in that style

StarlessCore
March 1st 2016


2942 Comments


greaaat record

Digging: Zhrine - Unortheta

DoofusWainwright
Contributing Reviewer
March 1st 2016


8409 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Starless have you listened to any of their other albums?



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