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Mark Eitzel Klamath Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Eitzel infuses his despondent dispatches with a bleak humour.

Andrew Mueller 2009

Nobody familiar with the catalogue Eitzel has assembled, under his own name and that of American Music Club, needs telling that self-loathing is a motif of his work. Even by Eitzel’s standards, however, entitling one track Why I’m Bullshit seems punishing, and braces the listener to expect Eitzel’s most wilfully wretched work yet.

Except that it isn’t, at least not quite. Klamath, named for the California river that trickles by the cabin in which Eitzel wrote the album, is certainly downbeat. Not for the first time, however, Eitzel infuses his despondent dispatches with a bleak humour that becomes hearteningly redemptive.

The music is minimal, foregrounding Eitzel’s vexed and/or anguished sigh against an unobtrusive backdrop of his acoustic guitar, the keyboards of AMC’s Marc Capelle and The Hold Steady’s Franz Nicolay, and the drums of Dave Douglas. The words are brooding and rueful, sounding like the random ransackings of the memory often prompted by isolation. Eitzel bobs amid the flotsam of friendships and relationships, clinging for dear life to anything still floating.

I Miss You conveys a sentiment as simple as its title in an exquisitely wrought lyric combining Eitzel’s heart-on-sleeve guilelessness and underrated wit (nobody else would concede his mortality with the phrase “When they snatch away my kazoo”). The Blood On My Hands is a half-spoken waltz with an introduction that flourishes mordant self-mockery with a panache that wouldn’t disgrace Leonard Cohen: “Girls, if you want to maintain a look like mine…”.

Klamath closes on Ronald Koal Was a Rock Star, a salute to a late punk hero from Eitzel’s home town of Columbus, Ohio. Eitzel has compared himself – invariably unfavourably – with other singers before, most notably on what is still probably his best-known song, Johnny Mathis’ Feet, in which he abashedly solicited the wisdom of the legend, hoping to attract a sprinkling of his stardust. This time he entertains no such aspirations, seeing in Koal’s little-lamented demise a premonition of his own: “We’re all going to be forgotten / Let’s face it – it’s all we have in store”.

Eitzel deserves better, as ever.

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