May 1997 – album reviews – Mark Eitzel’s ‘Lovers’ Leap USA’ (“contains some of Eitzel’s best songs and some previously unseen directions for his art… a half-baked masterpiece”)

30 May

Mark Eitzel: 'Lover's Leap USA'

Mark Eitzel: ‘Lover’s Leap USA’

Culled and scraped up from Mark Eitzel‘s demo drawer in order to finance touring, ‘Lovers’ Leap USA’ is not exactly the album we’re hoping the former American Music Club frontman will make. In fact, most of it is apparently outtakes from Eitzel’s actual forthcoming album (which rejoices in the catchy, cheery title of ‘Caught in a Trap and I Can’t Back Out ‘Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby‘) plus what sounds like his final San Francisco demos (with AMC’s multi-instrumentalist Bruce Kaphan fleshing out the sound). Not always to Eitzel’s satisfaction, as he’s urged us to skip the first two “really awful” tracks. Well, he’s always been his own best publicist.

In spite of Eitzel’s deprecations and the album’s unpolished, occasionally sullen state (effectively, it’s a scrappy bootleg), ‘Lovers Leap USA’ contains some of Eitzel’s best songs and some previously unseen directions for his art, making it something of a half-baked masterpiece. Some songs – What Good is Love, The Big House, Have No Words – are little more than straight acoustic skeletons, on which Eitzel’s singing is either mesmeric or painfully flat and jumbled. Some (such as Leave Her Alone) sound more like exhausted Arab Strap trudges, with a drawerful of industrial grind muddying the atmosphere. In others, Eitzel drifts off into trip-hop atmospherics – easy- listening string loops, opiated piano touches, giant slow shadowy drums. And on the expansive feel of Lost and Lonely, Eitzel’s whispers sound uncannily like Chris Isaak, floating above the swish of passing cars and birdsong like a dawn haze.

‘Lovers Leap USA’ also shows that Eitzel remains in touch with the majestic tunes that floated or roared through American Music Club’s angst. How Will You Face Yourself in Sleep takes us back to the delicate traceries of fear that graced Gratitude Walks or Laughingstock. Red velvet curtains haunt the lyrics and the sounds of a song set in a hotel full of unspecified performers and travellers, restless “under a thin blanket, ’cause when you’re on the move you don’t need to be warm – / you pull another dark flood over your hidden form.” These people are worn down enough to see the machinery (“you can see through every plot, you know how they end… / Always said you would quit before you got fired. / Now you’re treading water, forgotten and tired…”) and trudge through their roles, only consoled by knowing which strings will pull on them.

Dream in Your Heart, with its dark burning fuzz of angry guitars, could’ve been one of AMC’s more aggressive moments, replete with classic Eitzel runaway metaphors (“the bitterness wears me like a chain, since I’m too Mark Eitzel vain for the Man of Steel I’ve become”) and the choruses which clasp frantically at elusive hopes (“I saw a dream in your heart / for a beauty beyond your eyes”). If people still sung protest songs at the enemy, you’d imagine a phalanx of indignant American feminists roaring Leave Her Alone at Pat Robertson. As it is, here we have a battle-scarred Eitzel limping defiantly across a bloodied drag of guitar and churned-up trash-noise to stick pins into a bigot. “You’re God’s little soldier, making sure his thunderbolts get thrown… / I just want to bang nails in your cross, I want to drive those nails home.” He’s never sung out with such positive pride before – “My sister never got credit for anything; / her life was just a constant second-guessing. / She doesn’t need your holy undressing, / and most of all, she doesn’t need your blessing.”

Two suspicious meditations on fame, The Big House and Nice Nice Nice, might have sprung from the bitter backwash of AMC’s brief encounter with the big time. The first, in cranky acoustic cynicism, strips the glitz from the glittering bubble at the top of the pile (“antique paintings from across the pond, chandeliers and porcelain figurines / an island in the calm of the storm, scattered meaningless shouted words and bored security guards,”), and sees Eitzel as spectator in a backstage zone “as hollow as King Tut’s womb”, munching cheerlessly on bar snacks and watching “this treadmill… moving the river of green, / …freedom slipping through the cracks.” It’s someone else in the spotlight this time, atop a fortress of speaker stacks, kidding himself he’s empowered; but Eitzel’s disgust is the scorn of a man who’s been close enough to get stained himself. “Let ’em weigh you and judge you, let ’em use you as their tool. / You give it away, you fool, you fool, you fool.”

Even more cuttingly, Nice Nice Nice deals with the artistic failure-turned-self-promoter – “This is the wall you broke your head on, / the one you’ve lied about so many times. / And now you’ll display a marvel for the ages, / a masterpiece of grace and design / with a meaning that no-one really finds.” Here mass acceptance comes with the price of knowing “you’re just like them, deep down”, but it’s impossible to know which side the alienated but notoriously anti-precious Eitzel’s really on.

There are some glimpses of a starker personal honesty. The spindly blues of What Good is Love (in which Eitzel’s clacking metronome sounds as if it’s snipping strips from his life) is an agnostic’s sleepless night, dismantling the articles of faith one by one and feeling the emptiness grow. “All my chicken-bone dreams left on a windowsill too long, / so easy to pull them apart… / And if it won’t set us free, and there’s nothing above, / then what good are we, and what good is love?”

Steve I Always Knew is Eitzel’s first open acknowledgement in song of his own bisexuality. But that’s less of a revelation than the way in which he strips himself bare in it. In the upfront world of gay pickups, he’s hard-put to swagger: “I guess all this means we’re going to sleep together – / outside I’m hard as a brick, inside I’m like a feather… / I guess in bed I was kind of a sweet nothing – / and for your money, you could’ve done much better.” Although Eitzel’s the one who’s first dumped, then denied (“You moved to New York to clean up, and came back married to a cop. / And when I saw you on the street, I could tell you didn’t want to stop,”) he ends up the strong one, able to face what his erstwhile lover recognises but can’t deal with. “You said the only way through fear is to give in, / and you were right, you were right.”


 
The most fascinating songs here are the ones where the borders of the problem are lost to view. In Lost and Lonely, Eitzel’s walking from dawn ’til dusk “like the ghost of a man… beyond the blessing of women and the shadow of doubt”, under “cruel summer starlight on a dark street.” The song unravels in murmuring drunken thought, a fumbling of fleeting images (“measure the life in miles forgotten”; “why hold a seance? I know you won’t call”; “who would chain the stars too heavy to walk?”) and a repeating mumble of “thought you were lonely as me.” Towards the end, Eitzel mutters a barely audible “thank you”, like a sleepwalking Fat Elvis.

It’s that particular Elvis who seems to haunt the remaining pieces, which are Eitzel’s hypnotically dissolving forays into trip hop. Like the narcotic but impenetrable lushness of Your Glass Jaw, in which strings, vibes and congas seem to be buoying up a deadweight singer “high in a bright light” who only sloughs off more of those cryptic, disconnected mumbles – “dissolve bright eyes”; “mosquito hunger, the blood of saints.” It might be the collapse of a champion, the same pulverised resistance that Scott Walker evoked on ‘Tilt’.

Pay It Back loops satellite chatter and rumbling gongs around Eitzel’s skinny strums, an irretrievably distant and uncaring brushoff from a frozen heart. “Do I owe you my soul for your heartbeat to inhabit? / Well you can have it… / Buried alive, better off dead. /… Whatever it is I owe you, I’ll pay you back.” And in Lost My Humor, Eitzel returns to double-bass’n’piano torch-song sounds, but submerges them in an obscuring post-rock drone. Likewise, his voice is a half- buried baritone whisper like gutter-trodden velvet, repeating “I lost my humor” as a cynical mantra, trailing it with clinchers from the self-mockingly spiteful (“I was bored to death by your song, and the rest of popular culture”) to the philosophical (“it means I give up any claim to being a voice for tomorrow”), to the cold (“don’t assume that they see you, don’t assume that they like you”) through to post-modern fatalism – “I’m doomed to live without – negotiate your sorrow.”

So far, so Zombie-David Byrne, the Prisoner of Vegas. But what gives this its frightening depth is the way in which, by the end, he’s trying to rouse himself. The chant has become “I lost my spirit”, and he’s casting around trying to make sense of it again “like the mirror I smashed, trying to fit it back together,” and realising what’s been lost: “I lost my spirit – someone put it in your pocket… / I lost my spirit…”

In the end, wherever Mark Eitzel goes, he’s lost. But no-one sends letters from the wilderness like he can.


 
Mark Eitzel: ‘Lovers Leap USA’
self-released, ME 1001 (no barcode)
CD-only album
Released:
May 1997
Get it from: (2004 update) Extremely rare and best obtained second-hand. ‘Lover’s Leap USA’ was sold exclusively by Mark Eitzel himself during his 1997 touring – only 500 copies were made and it has never been reissued.
Mark Eitzel online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter MySpace Soundcloud Bandcamp Last FM Apple Music YouTube Vimeo Deezer Google Play Pandora Spotify Tidal Instagram Amazon Music
 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Post-Punk Monk

Searching for divinity in records from '78-'85 or so…

Get In Her Ears

Promoting and Supporting Women in Music

The Music Aficionado

Quality articles about the golden age of music

ATTN:Magazine

Not from concentrate.

Xposed Club

improvised/experimental/music

I Quite Like Gigs

Music Reviews, music thoughts and musical wonderings

A jumped-up pantry boy

To say the least, oh truly disappointed

PROOF POSITIVE

A new semi-regular gig in London

We need no swords

Organized sounds. If you like.

:::::::::::: Ekho :::::::::::: Women in Sonic Art

Celebrating the Work of Women within Sonic Art: an expanding archive promoting equality in the sonic field

Ned Raggett Ponders It All

Just another WordPress.com weblog

Headphone Commute

honest words on honest music

Yeah I Know It Sucks

an absurdist review blog

Pop Lifer

Waiting for the gift of sound and vision

Good Music Speaks

A music blog written by Rich Brown

Archived Music Press

Scans from the Melody Maker and N.M.E. circa 1987-1996

OLD SCHOOL RECORD REVIEW

Where You Are Always Wrong

Fragile or Possibly Extinct

Life Outside the Womb

a closer listen

a home for instrumental and experimental music

Bird is the Worm

New Jazz: We Search. We Recommend. You Listen.

Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

eyesplinters

Just another WordPress.com site

FormerConformer

Striving for Difference

%d bloggers like this: