Sad music has always been a favorite lyrical theme of mine, although my life is far from the gloom of the brooding music I tend to gravitate to. Two of my favorite purveyors of this kind of melancholy are Mark Kozelek and Mark Eitzel and his band American Music Club (AMC). Musically the trio have overlapped in personnel with Tim Mooney playing with both Kozelek (Sun Kil Moon) and AMC.
American Music Club had not recorded for nearly a decade while Mark Eitzel, the band’s leader recorded a string of acclaimed but commercially ignored solo albums. AMC had a similar commercial fate throughout its long history, always the darling of the critics, but never on any top ten sales lists. So when the band came together to record the excellent Love Songs for Patriots, it was like Christmas and Easter for me.
All the key members were back: Dan Pearson on bass, Tim Mooney on drums and Vudi on guitar. The only exception was Bruce Kaplan who’s distinctive pedal steel was missed. In his place was a new keyboardist Marc Capelle who help in forming a new sound that combined all the traditional AMC elements with a more concise rock style.
Of course there would not be a revamped AMC without Mark Eitzel. His regular witty writing style mixed sorrow and humor and borrowed heavily from sideshow themes of the past. Here the songs were as strong as on any of his prior projects with AMC or solo.
In typical AMC style, Eitzel would combine odd elements together for potent messages as in the album’s highlight “Patriot’s Heart”. Who else could combine the seedy underworld of male stripping with the disenchantment of veterans in a post 911 world and do it in a moving and respectful way?
Other songs recall the best of AMC of the past like “Another Morning” and “Myopic Books” a throwback to the Everclear and Mercury eras. Much of the album is more rhythmic with catch courses as on “Only Love Can Set You Free”. There was even an attempt at the anthemic rock song with “Home” one of the few songs from the band to make it to modern rock radio.
Many of the songs like “Mantovani the Mind Reader” carry an undercurrent of humor, often mixed with sadness, but present nevertheless. Where humor is less present beyond song titles that conjure carnivals and circuses, remorse, sarcasm take center stage. With 7 albums behind them by 2004 and just as many as a solo artist by then, the disappointment in Eitzel’s lyrics almost question if it was worth it, just listen to remorse “America Loves the Minstrel Show”. Like previous albums, whatever video existed to support singles were rare or seldom seen. Once again, AMC made another great album with no direct connection to any audience that did not resemble aged hipsters. Rock had become aging pioneers on one end and booty shaking teens on the other. As always, AMC’s brand of deeply emotional rock did not easily fit any marketable norms in a world where rappers and 20 something pop princesses ruled.
Like previous albums, whatever video existed to support singles were rare or seldom seen. Once again, AMC made another great album with no direct connection to any audience that did not resemble aged hipsters. Rock had become aging pioneers on one end and booty shaking teens on the other. As always, AMC’s brand of deeply emotional rock did not easily fit any marketable norms in a world where rappers and 20 something pop princesses ruled.
None of Love Songs for Patriots is as heavy emotionally as Benji from Mark Kozelek, but Eitzel has built a reputation as being one who can balance sadness with humor without diluting either. It’s what made Love Songs for Patriots so popular with modern rock music connoisseurs and all but ignored by everyone else. Fortunately for fans of AMC and Eitzel’s solo work the two still had a few great albums ahead of them.