Hearts of Darkness

The Golden Age
American Music Club

“I wish that we were always high,” sings Mark Eitzel at the start of the new American Music Club album, and there’s something about that yearning for escape that bolsters doubts fans may have about the songwriter’s ambitions — since reforming the band a few years ago — to be a more optimistic human being.

Even if you don’t buy the everything’s-beautiful implications of naming an album The Golden Age — which are offset by a gorgeously gloomy cover image of the bandmates adrift at sea — you’ve got to admit the record’s very existence is heartening. Plenty of reunions don’t last past the honeymoon. (Where’s that new Pixies LP I was promised?) American Music Club may have had to relocate to Los Angeles (the better to let guitarist Vudi hold down his day job as a city bus driver), but they’ve left a chunk of their hearts behind: Two songs are named for their old hometown by the bay — the paradoxically sunny-sounding “All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco,” and the disc’s bring-the-room-down closer.

Eitzel may relocate, but he carries his heart of darkness with him wherever he goes: One of the most memorable pictures he paints here, “The Windows on the World,” is of himself as a patience-testing drunk taking in the view at the bar that once perched atop the World Trade Center.

AMC, whose lineup has changed since their last outing, still excels at music whose dreamy qualities balance the occasionally raw emotions of Eitzel’s lyrics. The multi-track gauze is no sedative, though, and even on the slowest songs it serves to focus the listener’s meditations on lyrical truths (“no one here will ever save you”) that need all the beautiful backing they can get.

Trouble in Dreams

Eitzel’s bitter pill is easy to swallow, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a band or producer that could scrape the weird edges off Dan Bejar, whose latest outing with Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams, may (again) come as a slight surprise: How does Bejar keep up this pace (about a record a year) while contributing to not-inconsequential side projects such as the New Pornographers, Swan Lake, and his latest, Hello Blue Roses, which just put out a record last month? (HBR consists of Bejar and his girlfriend Sydney Vermont, who does most of the writing and singing on that disc, coming across as a less dramatic cousin of Kate Bush.)

Trouble in Dreams, which hits stores a few days after the band’s March 14 SXSW showcase, finds Bejar continuing his reign over indie rock’s Precinct Du Weird, which has no shortage of pretenders to the throne. Not many of the acid-damaged baroque folkies out there, though, mine as many psyche-lodging turns of phrase, or are as skilled at making one out-of-nowhere melodic leap stand apart from the others.

Bejar’s words are endlessly puzzling — a tease in the first song could be inserted into any of the others: “I’ll tell you what I mean by that. Maybe not in seconds flat, maybe not today ... maybe never” — but he puts them across with Bowie-like charisma. As the boys in Flight of the Conchords demonstrated in their recent tribute to the former Mr. Stardust, that’s something that can get a guy beyond any number of disadvantages.

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