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Mark Eitzel
Candy Ass
Cooking Vinyl

It's unfortunate if, like me, you've come to the party a little late. It's clear from all the accolades about Mark Eitzel's past work, both solo and as the frontman of American Music Club, that he is respected as a talented and versatile songwriter, but if Candy Ass were the only thing I had to go on I would not be tempted to explore any further. This album is schizophrenic. Most of the tracks are ambient electronica, the kind of chill out sound that played in the background of every London champagne bar I ever revived myself in from 1999-2001. So at first the music seems bland and outdated, but on further listen I notice that Eitzel has imbued it with sounds and lyrics that render it vaguely disturbing. That's not my favorite combo. "A Loving Tribute To My City" is interspersed with clips of a young girl speaking, and while I can't make out all of what she is saying, it definitely starts out with a description of someone with a nose tumor having a near death experience during surgery. Riiiight. Even the compositions without lyrics invoke the same uncomfortable feeling in me that this one does - I felt quite grey and empty, and sometimes bored, listening to most of this album. That could be because it was cold and colorless outside while I listened, but nonetheless, without a drink in my hand and someone else to talk to I can't really think where I would want to be to hear this playing.

Now, I have to admit that nestled in the computer generated wasteland like the last, straggler jelly beans in the Easter basket are a few songs I'm more interested in; songs in which Eitzel sings and plays guitar, his voice sometimes reminding me oddly of a male Edie Brickell. These songs are more engaging with their quirky lyrics and spare accompaniment; dirty coffee shop music contrasting against the zebra couches and Super 8 movies of the rest of the album. On first listen, I laughed aloud at the lyrics of "My Pet Rat St. Michael," only to be sideswiped by an unexpected feeling of melancholy. "Sleeping Beauty" is a delicate song, where Eitzel's soft voice catches as he describes "your trembling hands/that cannot hold on/to any heart that's warm/to any lie that's cold." Finally, I like "Roll Away My Stone," in which Eitzel's distinctive voice and turn of phrase combine to simply and effectively convey the human struggle with self doubt. I feel a tentative connection to Eitzel's music when he plays his guitar and sings; a connection that is lost every time the next alienating, electronic piece comes on.

Overall, Candy Ass comes off as a disjointed effort; two disparate styles that for me don't mesh that well. If you can get past the all-encompassing atmospherics and feel so inclined, check around for an earlier Mark Eitzel album that will give you more to think about, one that gnaws at you a little more like his pet rat, St. Michael.

- Heidi Lamer

Track Listing:
1. My Pet Rat St. Michael
2. Cotton Candy Tenth Power
3. Make Sure They Hear
4. Sleeping Beauty
5. A Loving Tribute To My City
6. Homeland Pastoral
7. Roll Away My Stone
8. Green Eyes
9. Cobh
10. I Am Fassbinder
11. Song Of The Mole
12. Guitar Lover

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