Friday, August 13, 2010

Album Review: American Music Club – Love Songs for Patriots


American Music Club surprisingly reformed in 2004 and released this album. I’ve gone on record to say that in general, I don’t really like the idea of bands reforming. The band were never particularly successful before they split, but at this point in time after the initial split, singer Mark Eitzel had released a haphazard series of solo albums, and the other members had some fairly low key musical projects, so it’s understandable that they would regroup. But would this album live up to their former glories: California, United kingdom et al?

Opener Ladies and Gentlemen is quite unexpected, sounding not like one of their older tracks but a whole different thing. In fact it sounds like a ‘call-to-arms’ as Eitzel sings “ladies and gentlemen it’s time for all the good that’s in you to shine” over an unsettling distorted guitar growl, before becoming a sort of abrasive smoky jazz track. It doesn’t really work in my view but it’s an interesting opener. Another Morning follows which is a much more familiar sounding track, with a jangly guitar and a fairly commercial melody. Indeed if they had put this out in the early 90s it might have given them a commercial breakthrough but that ship has long, long sailed. Lyrically it’s another song about his muse Kathleen Burns (deceased at this stage) with some great imagery like “when you laughed like water breaking over a broken land”.

Patriot’s Heart is another smoky jazz track, which is probably better executed than Ladies and Gentlemen, but again I’m not too fond of it. The album in general is a lot denser and complex than their other albums, with a lot going on in many of the tracks. Job To Do on the surface is a simple enough song with a carefully picked guitar in the verses until heavy drums kick in for the chorus, followed by some extraordinary squalling feedback from Vudi.

Later tracks such as Mantovani the Mind Reader and America Loves The Minstrel Show sound pleasingly offkilter, almost like conventional tunes that have been slightly warped. Myopic Books is a lovely tale about wanting to visit a bookstore in winter where “the music they’d play there would be Dinosaur Jr, and the people who work there would be superskinny and super-unfriendly, and that would make me happy.” This heartwarming tale turns to memories of the protagonist’s mother, and all this takes place over some plaintive guitar, gentle percussion and keyboards, before drawing the conclusion “maybe the worst is over”.

After the jaunty mess that is Your Horseshoe Wreath In Bloom, Song for the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship is like the flipside to Myopic Books, in that it’s acoustically based but more sombre (“you can laugh, you can cry, you can even bitterly grieve”), with a more austere guitar pattern.

Final track The Devil Needs You is arguably the most ambitious. It starts off simply enough with a straightforward descending guitar pattern, until halfway through Marc Capelle’s horns enter the mix, playing out an instrumental coda which is as ambient as this band has ever got. You find yourself wanting the track to outlast the seven and a half minutes running time, it’s a great way to end the album.

There are some albums which flow along nicely, one track running into the next. This is not one of them. It weaves and winds through different directions from track to track, and with several layers within many of them which reward repeated listening.