To most anyone familiar with American Music Club, the name screams San Francisco, seemingly so tied to a specific time (the early '90s) and place (where else?) that it would collapse in any other environment. After 1994's San Francisco — see what I mean? — the revered band dissolved, but a decade later reunited with another great record, proving it could thrive in a brand-new era. And now, four years later, American Music Club has reached the quarter-century mark, lost two of its core members, moved to Los Angeles, and outdone itself again.
The Golden Age is simpler and, predictably, more mature than its predecessors, but what you hear is not all that you get. Feedback squalls and roiling, distorted solos from longtime guitarist Vudi have a subversive effect against wholesome soundscapes. The two-minute denouement to "On My Way," initially a mellow, quiet song, borders on noise. At the surface level, Vudi's guitar work simply sounds great, but deeper down, in contrast to 49-year-old Mark Eitzel's lyrical wisdom and contentedness, creates an underworld of buried dissonance that exists even when it's not audible. This only enhances "All the Lost Souls Welcome You to San Francisco," which otherwise would surrender to its eerily John Mayer lilt. When the record closes with "The Grand Duchess of San Francisco," about a woman who hates to live in the spotlight, but can't live without it, we know that even if American Music Club has left San Francisco, the city can't return the favor. (Merge Records)