Engine – American Music Club (1985)

Engine album cover
Engine album cover

RECOMMENDOne of the last great musical discoveries of my college era was The American Music Club. One day I heard them being played from the basement of my apartment building. While following the sound, I found my friend sorting stuff with Engine playing in the background.

From that day on, The American Music Club became one of my favorites, if not my favorite band. Its leader Mark Eitzel, who has released a few solo albums on his own is (or is that was?) the man behind the San Francisco based band.

On Engine, their second album, a rough country western meets punk style may have been due to individual influences, but the often slow and introspective lyrics from Mark Eitzel prompted a new musical definition called slowcore (sometimes sadcore).

On Engine, Eitzel develops his witty method of songwriting that mixes humor and sadness in an early formula that would eventually become the band’s hallmark. Three of the band’s early core members were present: Mark Eitzel, Vudi and Dan Pearson. They with others provided a mostly indie rock meets country western sound. The occasional steel strings lent some country flavor, but the songs are stark and modern by virtue of Eitzel’s grounded yet poetic lyrics.

Some of the albums more upbeat highlights like “Outside This Bar” and “Clouds” exemplify the straight forward rock with punk undertones from the band’s debut. It would be the slower songs like “Nightwatchman”, “Mom’s TV” and “Asleep” that pointed to the band’s future reputation as kings of slowcore indie rock. Humor too was becoming a staple of the band’s work, specifically in Eitzel’s writing. Although not always as out right goofy as in “The Art of Love”.

AMC’s first three domestic releases, The Restless Stranger, Engine and California all feature an evolving degree of polish on the way to the lush sound of Mercury, the band’s major label debut. Eitzel’s songwriting also evolved,but even in early material it was clear that he was a step above the average rock song architect. It would easily put him in the same category as Morrissey, Joni Mitchell or Kate Bush in that regard. Rolling Stone magazine thought so too and would call Eitzel, the greatest songwriter of the year in 1988.

“Outside This Bar” is one of the band’s concert favorites as are a few others from Engine. It’s where Eitzel refines his punk and new wave influences to the point of creating a unique style of his own quite literally starting the slowcore (or sadcore) genre. Whatever you might want to call it, it’s a sound with few imitators today and holds up well over time. That may be one of the reasons I keep going back to this album.


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