American Music Club frontman Mark Eitzel is not a happy fellow these days, not that anyone's ever thought of his work as "party music." The S.F. band's first album since 1994's San Francisco finds AMC forgoing its melodic, plaintively brooding, country-tinged rock for an approach that's spare, harsher, and even more disconsolate. Eitzel's smooth, emotive croon has never sounded better, but those glistening guitars are gone, replaced by muted (sometimes plodding) piano and atmospheric electronics and percussion. Lyrically, Eitzel's targets are this nation's rube mentality ("America Loves the Minstrel Show"), pseudo-affection for sale (the male stripper of "Patriot's Heart"), and, of course, romantic estrangement ("I swear you want to say goodbye even more than you want to breathe," goes one optimistic line). The loping, cheerily sarcastic "The Horseshoe Wreath in Bloom" comes closest to the old AMC, while the most startling track is "Job to Do," which features eerily martial, upfront drumming and intensely dissonant, feedback-laden guitar noise. Patriots is pretty compelling, but you might want to play Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen albums afterward to perk you up.
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