Pretty rich title for a band assumed to have peaked with 1995’s Mercury, its ambitious major-label debut. The following year’s too-many-cooks Francisco led to American Music Club’s demise, triggering a decade of sometimes rudderless solo work from songwriter maudit Mark Eitzel (a covers album, older songs backed by traditional Greek instruments, etc.). 2004’s full-band return, Love Songs for Patriots, audibly substituted ProTools for a real production budget; wisely, The Golden Age is less mediated, its variety achieved through smartly arranged curveballs like the Calexican waltz “I Know That’s Not Really You.” Now based in L.A., this is also a less democratic AMC: In honorableWest Coast fashion, the current rhythm section, borrowed from Echo Park combo the Larks, serves as foil to what raises this outfit above most singer-songwriter vehicles: the interaction between Eitzel’s long-lined melodies and open-tuned chord-cycles, and guitarist Vudi’s way with a signal chain. The textures of “Decibels and Little Pills” (country, the way that gay bar in Basic Instinct was country) and “On My Way” (a Kevin Shields whiteout) are no less alchemical for being exactly what the faithful have come to expect.
Speaking of what you’d expect, Eitzel’s mind can’t help wandering back upstate, with San Francisco appearing by name in two titles here. But the most arresting songs cast a wider net. “The Windows on the World” memorializes pre-9/11 NYC though a tourist’s-eye-view of the World Trade Center’s 107th-floor bar (“I’m on top of the world with a free beer”). And in “The Dance,” a woman’s fling with a soldier who “shakes his moneymaker without the safety on” ends in slaughter. Echoed by Vudi’s acrid solo, the scale of Eitzel’s contempt for military unaccountability is evident: “When you say the right words, your uniform is clean.” The best reason not to write off AMC just because this isn’t their golden age? It’s not ours, either.