PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


American Music Club: Love Songs for Patriots

Zeth Lundy

American Music Club

Love Songs for Patriots

Label: Merge
US Release Date: 2004-10-12
UK Release Date: 2004-09-06

The climate of this year in music has been like one giant group therapy session. Bands you never thought you'd hear from again suddenly got Lazarus fever. The Pixies. The Zombies. New York Dolls. Mission of Burma. Even VH1 has provided us with a typically insipid, kitschy service by reuniting the bands we didn't even think we needed back in our lives. I mean, duh, how could we not have realize that seeing Berlin and A Flock of Seagulls perform again would just set the world right? Itching for Men Without Hats to rise from Rip Van Winkledom? Say the word, friends, and Bands Reunited will sprinkle some fairy dust to make it so. (Note to Bob Pollard: Guided By Voices still has a few months left if it wants to announce its reformation before the end of the year.)

The reconstruction of American Music Club earlier this year may not have received as much press as its peers', which is to be expected. AMC was never plagued by band member catfights or ego wrestling matches; the band's split in 1994, following a ten-year output of seven albums, was entirely amicable. No one wants to read about bands with zero internal drama -- tell us what Kim called Black Francis instead! Sadly, AMC got about as much widespread recognition during its lifespan as it did while on extended hiatus. Despite a string of some of the best records of the '90s and (perhaps in spite of) earning the infamous Kiss of Death laurels from Rolling Stone, the public just didn't "get" the band. Or perhaps the public was never given a chance to not get the band. In the end, it doesn't matter how AMC came to be neglected, it just was, and for those of us that knew better, that seemed to fit the band just fine.

AMC (specifically, songwriter/vocalist Mark Eitzel, bassist Dan Pearson, drummer Tim Mooney, guitarist Vudi, and multi-instrumentalist Marc Capelle, who replaces original member Bruce Kaphan) never angled for fame or fortune, always managing to promote its truth and power over its status. If you caught on to AMC the first time around, the band was impossible to ignore and all too easy to defend. The band was exceptional to a fault, it seemed; bands this good didn't need advertisements taken out in glossy magazines. If AMC is news to you, here's what you've missed: emotional juggernauts laced with Eitzel's sardonic self-effacement; pop/rock/country/folk meta-nuggets full of bristling apology; sort of a reconstituted Basement Tapes discography for a new, lost-at-the-wheel generation; and two essential albums in Everclear and Mercury.

Make that three essential albums. Nothing could have aptly prepared me for the impassioned Love Songs for Patriots. I mean, AMC was great, but that was ten years ago. Since the band's quiet dissolve, Eitzel released a series of solo records that never quite matched the sound and fury of AMC's best moments (I would argue that Caught in a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby comes closest), Pearson formed the Americana outfit Clodhopper, Mooney opened his own recording studio, and Vudi drove an L.A. city bus. Not really the obvious recipe for a triumphant return, but nevertheless, here's Love Songs for Patriots, and it's stunning.

Love Songs for Patriots follows AMC's natural through-line, confronting the human condition via Eitzel's bleak ruminations on life and love. But this is a new decade, helmed by an imperial administration; as a result, love and politics are more intertwined than ever before. The album opens with the thundercrack of "Ladies and Gentlemen" (described by Eitzel as "what George Bush should have said after 9/11"). The house lights go down, the stage lights come up red, and the exits are locked as Pearson's distorted bass ducks and jabs around a struggling dissonance of feedback and bum notes. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time," Eitzel sings, the words aching out his mouth, "For all the good that's in you to shine / For all the lights to lose their shade / For all the hate that's in you to fade."

You can accept these songs as letters in vain to the President, or as less lofty odes to people of your choosing. Love Songs for Patriots may wear its politics on its sleeve, but that sleeve is situated beneath a jacket of complexities. "It's time to deceive," Eitzel remarks in "Ladies and Gentlemen", and there's plenty of deception in these songs: the damnation of sins by the world's leading sinner ("America Loves the Minstrel Show"); the illusionist who makes you believe "you can be anyone that you want to under the sun" ("Mantovani the Mind Reader"); the throngs of people strung along by lies and false hopes ("Your Horseshoe Wreath in Bloom").

There are two songs here that define the density of this record: "Patriot's Heart" and "Song of the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship". "Patriot's Heart" (which gets my vote for best song of the year) examines the contemporary proliferation of American patriotism, but sets the scene in a gay strip club. AMC trump the song with erratic swagger, punctuating Eitzel's complicated metaphors and palpable scenario with kick drum throbs and knife-like guitar stabs. Eitzel sings of a male stripper drawn to "men with sin in their eyes": "He always says the same thing, he says / 'So how you doin', baby? / I'm your rod and your staff / And for a tip, you can touch me / And after a few tequilas, I become something holy... / The more you pay, the more I can break you all apart' / And dollars pour like ashes from the patriot's heart". The hushed, spare "Song of the Rats Leaving the Sinking Ship" uses an acoustic guitar and Eitzel's double-tracked vocals as its backbone. "You can laugh, you can cry, you can even bitterly grieve," Eitzel sings in the chilling chorus melody, "But you can't deny that it's time to leave". This is how Love Songs for Patriots works on so many levels: by exercising subtly, the song can be a call for Bush to leave office, for the troops to leave Iraq, or for one lover to leave another. It's up to you.

When Eitzel is on his game like he is here, he's the sublime strain of songwriter all others dream about late at night: deadpan, seething with black humor, acutely iconoclastic. His air of defeatism and regret is just as saddened as it is easily identifiable and funny. He hopes to find a bookstore where "the music they'd play there would be Dinosaur Jr. / And the people who worked there would be super-skinny / And super-unfriendly" ("Myopic Books"). Whether he's attempting to accept pain's prominence in life ("Another Morning") or admits "I always thought my life looked much better at a distance / Now I'm just another set of eyes lost in the blur" ("Home"), his confidence is unnerving. It's these grounding qualities in Eitzel's songs that save his condemnations from righteousness. Because Eitzel, like all of us, is just another person on this planet, and doesn't pretend that his secrets and faults are worth hiding.

This is the stuff of blood and guts, an album where dive bar confessions become sprawling self-revelations. I can't stress enough how brilliant this record is, how pertinent and valuable its songs are to our lives. Most of Love Songs for Patriots' success lies in its ability to exist so openly, refusing to force predetermined interpretations into the listener's cranium. If there's any justice in this world -- and Love Songs for Patriots makes an argument otherwise -- people will take that $15 they saved up for the Romeo Void reunion show and use it to secure a copy of this record. Because real reunions are about more than fond memories and giggling reminiscences; they're about taking stock of how they fit into this world now and making good on that. "Some wanna show you where the light is / Some just wanna stare at the view," Eitzel warily whispers in "Job to Do". Love Songs for Patriots points out that light for all to see; what we make of it is up to us.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.