By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Caught In a Trap and I Can't Back Out 'Cause I Love You Too Much, Baby
IN THIS AGE of ubiquitous corporate sponsorship, it's a wonder that singer-songwriter Mark Eitzel hasn't landed a lucrative booze endorsement. Since Eitzel's days fronting the American Music Club, his brooding empty-bottle soliloquies have suggested the stuff of Tortured Artist legend. (Perhaps a troubled heart can't even commit to a single brand of gin?) And yet, for all his poetic nihilism, Eitzel always manages to come out smelling, if not always sounding, like an optimist. After all, if his dark, detailed pit of lovelorn foibles truly had no bottom, why pick up a guitar in the first place?
The impeccably titled Caught In a Trap...is Eitzel's most palpably hopeful work to date. Mind you, glimpses of light are elusive, constantly obscured by the artist's two-faced melodies and a sleepy-eyed croon that's equal parts Chet Baker and Charles Bukowski. As a tender twist, the first half of the record is laid lovingly bare with only sparse acoustic guitar to cushion the fall. (In this manner, thankfully, his memorable stage number, "Xmas Lights Spin," finally makes it to tape.) "If I Had a Gun" finds our hero sulking in the sense that "nothing separates me from the Beast," as simmering effects and gentle background buzz hint at a coming crescendo. "Queen of No One" launches into a commanding modern rock that smacks convincingly of AMC. And the punchy "Cold Light of Day" sounds like an outtake from the band's San Francisco sessions, wrought with weary urgency and careful streaks of ambient guitar noise.
Backing players on this one-off Matador release include guitarist Kid Congo Powers, drummer Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, and Yo La Tengo bassist James McNew. And though the team yields a warm, eerily familiar sound, this is hardly an occasion to pick over the bones of Eitzel's past. In fact, it's an indication that West--last year's awkward collaboration with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck--was merely an unfortunate lapse. Still chronically unsettled, Eitzel is best dressed as a sole proprietor of poisoned idealism and brutal, 100-proof charisma.