Such is the incandescent glory of American Music Club that—after a solid decade of surly hiatus, it begins its much-anticipated sonic return with a breathless jeremiad lavished over gargling, splattery bass and vampire jazz piano: “Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time, for all the good that’s in you to shine …”
Light and shade, man, and AMC does it about as well as anyone. It’s no secret that many of the most cherished cult figures in independent music thrive by being able to offer a bedraggled and spiritually malnourished flock of desperately earnest young (and not-so-young) scenesters a crumpled mirror of their own yearnings and fears and self-torment with silvery shards of light poking through the edges. But while Morrissey occasionally succumbed to sniveling and The Replacements’ frenzied yelps occasionally echoed puerile in the cold morning after, Mark Eitzel stared bravely in the face of the inherent contradiction that sadness and beauty often travel together, and that it can be exceedingly difficult to tell them apart when viewed through the bottom of a bottle.
If Morrissey was the preening before a night of dizzying decadence (and possible rejection) and The Replacements were the 20th drink of the night when the gloves came off, AMC was the point in the brutal dawn when some sense had to be made of it all. Eitzel’s voice was never merely that of a “beautiful loser,” but that of someone desperately seeking a love of life itself through a fog of existential pain and drama. Heavy stuff to be sure, but it was always offered alternately with earnestness and a self-deprecating sense of humor that made it easy enough to swallow shot by shot, particularly as an errant chord change snapped you out of your stupor.
On Love Songs for Patriots, Eitzel and AMC sound positively refueled, ready to tackle not only the smaller personal demons in the shadows of the self, but the larger ones lurking in the heart of a nation. Perhaps conscious of the band name’s inescapable association, Eitzel starkly projects the ashtray reality of a desolate male strip club against the national soul on “Patriot’s Heart,” a dirge that wrenches itself into a particularly unnerving corner of the album’s otherwise redemptive sonic tableau. While Eitzel’s songs stand up powerful as ever (“Myopic Books” being perhaps the most simplistically arresting), guitarist Vudi emerges as a strikingly undersung hero, gilding “Another Morning” with elegant flourishes and punctuating “Job to Do” with beautiful, vacuous feedback swells. With a host of MIDI effects, exotic keyboard touches and, presumably, some studio alchemy, the album has a strong modernist streak older AMC fans will immediately note.
If there’s any real fault to the effort, it’s that the group’s obsessive attention to sonic detail occasionally mires them in mid- or slower tempos when there are rockers waiting to be unleashed. Instead, the (often politicized) tension and pathos reverberate ad infinitum. And so be it. Their best since 1991’s Everclear, and a glittering statement of purpose from an institution reinvigorated.