Mark Eitzel and Columbus go way back. At one time Eitzel wrote for Tim Anstaett’s The Offence, and his early, Joy Division-esque band Naked Skinnies began here. They were the “hero band” of Ron House, who played lots of shows with Naked Skinnies and helped put out the band’s first 7-inch, “All My Life,” on “Naked House Records” in 1981. Eitzel formed the Skinnies, his precursor to American Music Club, with Greg Bonnell (AMC, Moviola), John Hricko and Nancy Kangas before heading out to San Francisco. Though Eitzel doesn’t recall the period with particular fondness and has yet to permit digital dissemination of the aforementioned 7-inch, it’s better than he remembers it to be and a fascinating look into how Eitzel started out.
Fast-forward to 2012. American Music Club is dissolved (at least for the time being), and Eitzel is about to release a solo album called Don’t Be a Stranger. Eitzel has said of the new record, “I wanted to make an album more reminiscent of records like Harvest by Neil Young or Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake than anything I’ve previously done.” The Young/Drake touchstones make perfect sense on this first preview, which recounts the tale of Eitzel watching a band fronted by a woman who wrote “I love you but you’re dead” on his poster.
Don’t Be a Stranger is out Oct. 2 on Merge Records.
Given the many guises the songwriting of Mark Eitzel took on after the disbanding of American Music Club in 1995, the band’s 2004 reunion album, Love Songs for Patriots, wasn’t quite the jarring return to form that might have been expected, but more of a subtle dipping back into familiar waters. The band’s new album, The Golden Age (Merge), recalling AMC benchmark California, treads over paths Eitzel first cleared more than a decade ago, only now there’s wisdom where once there was desperation, world-weariness replacing emotional exhaustion. When Eitzel sings “No one is going to save you” on highlight “Decibels and Little Pills,” it may sound like a familiar refrain, but here he comes off resolute instead of at the end of his rope. Elsewhere cuts like “The Dance” may lack such a dramatic lyrical hook, but Eitzel has developed a narrative form that’s just as captivating for its character development and miniature plot lines. Guitarist and only other remaining original AMC member Vudi is the real difference though. In some intangible way, the songs are more firmly rooted for his presence, his intricate playing still the perfect blend of tear-in-a-beer twang and ambient moodiness for Eitzel’s sadsack tales. It would be unfair to say that it’s like no time has passed since the band’s hey day because really it’s specifically time that has produced The Golden Age.
Moviola and the Black Swans will open for American Music Club when they play at Cafe Bourbon Street on Monday, April 14.
MP3: All the Souls Welcome You to San Francisco