Is Mark Eitzel a candy ass? That’s not really open to review. In terms of geography and his muse,Mark Eitzel seems to be eternally restless, forever looking at the worldthrough a stranger’s eye. His solo career has taken in more detours than KateMoss on the way to rehab. How about re-recording some of your classic songswith a group of Greek musicians? Dashing off a record with Peter Buck fromREM? Jazz? An LP of cover versions?
Much like Alex Chilton of BigStar, Eitzel’s solo work is impossible to pigeonhole. You’re never sure whatyou’re going to get – save that everything that Eitzel putshis name to has the kite mark of quality songwriting.
Candy Ass picks up the baton from 2001’s Invisible Man. Equipped with alaptop, his guitar and a copy of Pro Tools, Eitzel set about filtering his songsthrough his love of abstract electronica. This is less the spinelessclubfriendly beats and guitars of Dido or Everything But TheGirl, more the liquid mercury of Aphex Twin or Oval. It carriesa greater depth of sound, more rough edges and dirty beats, than the recentBob Mould explorations into similar territory.
On Make Sure They Hear, the foray into the murky world of electronic texturesmakes perfect sense. The drum loops, subterranean bass and phased string tonescoalesce into a throbbing sonic backdrop. It recalls the bruised and pithywork of My Computer or Junior Boys.The track’s dynamics arebrilliantly executed. The whispered vocal rises, as the bubbling electronicsriefly fade out. Lost in the void his voice charged with emotion as he sings”The day will rise, the sun will come”. The beat drops back in. It’s the kindof climax that pulses through house music. Here it is stripped bare, reduced toits neutrons and electrons. In its crackle and whine you can glimpse the frayedcables of his robot heart.
The harsh, bright metallic sounds of fellow San Franciscans Matmossputter through the electronic tracks. Clicks, cuts and digital scree thatsound like the brakes on a tube train slammed on hard vibrate across thebackdrops. It’s a treble heavy sound. A swirling mist of high-end hiss and themicro slicing and dicing of beats.
It works beautifully on Homeland Pastoral. A hymn composed by cyber ghostspunching numbers into damaged mobile phones. His ode to cult German film makerRainer Werner Fassbinder slips along the same binary highway. Of theelectronic material the strongest track is A Loving Tribute to My City. Asynthetic, rumbling backdrop thuds and drones. The melody oxidized sliver. Achild’s voice weaves low in the mix adding sweet counter point. The dubby bassand drums evoke a wistful mood would allow it to sit comfortable on a Boards of Canada release. It’s The Orb‘s Little Fluffy Clouds,refracted through a winter fog.
Not all the songs are adventures inside the digital sphere. Green Eyes is apartial collaboration with Calexico and their track Praskovia.Electronic textures are pitched against a rumbling lounge bar piano. Theprogrammed beat starts as simple dumb and rocking as The Ramones beforeit slowly twists itself into a thumping disco monster. About half way throughthe brass arrives, adding warmth and a little swing .
Green Eyes acts as a musical portal between the more electronic tracks andthe softer sounding acoustic based numbers. Sleeping Beauty, St Michael My PetRat and Roll Away My Stone prove once again that Eitzel is pretty much peerlesswhen it comes to sketching out the thin line between love and ruin. His voicecarries in it the sound of a thousand lonely lives. The lyrics are as honestand unforgiving as the last rites. They are hopeful andaching, not relentlessly grim, but they’re focused and sharp and pull nopunches.
There is much to admire here, and much to cherish.Candy Ass may baffle some long-term fans; it may also draw in some from theelectronic fringes. Long may Mark Eitzel remain wired and willing topush the boundaries of his musical skills. A restlessstranger maybe, but a candy ass he is not.