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60 Watt Silver Lining, by Mark Eitzel
Blue, by Olympic Death Squad

by Chris Tweney

Buy 60 Watt Silver Lining
Buy Blue

Let's all get depresso-burger despair-0-mania for a moment. There's nothing like kicking back with a bottle of cheap booze, a couple tapes of Billie Holiday recorded during her agonizing, scratchy-throated last years, and spending a night in gloom. You could have a couple friends over -- its even better if you haven't been getting along well with them lately -- but being alone in a roadside hotel would do well enough. For added spice, make sure a couple is having noisy sex in the next room. Or the same couple, arguing loudly. Bonus points if they throw things while they're arguing or having sex.

The Billie Holiday tapes get chewed up by your crappy cassette player. What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

The best perpetuation of that elegant feeling of poetic misery tampered with the transience of human existence could be found in the songs of Mark Eitzel. His work with the American Music Club is legendary, at least to the couple hundred people who'd heard of 'em. Eitzel has a grasp of true poetry and songwriting appropriate to the lyrics, or problems, at hand.

This set of songs are wrapped around the lives of the down and out in San Francisco, utterly personal and seemingly universal. Lives as skewed as the fishing boat rocking on the flat sea shown on the cover. Mark's singing is always a low tenor, shifting from curiously detached to passionate without seeming to change at all. The music backing him would be acceptable on any of those tasteful yuppie rock PBS radio shows running on weekend afternoons, wedged between Tracy Chapman and Lyle Lovett. Fortunately, this is a bit better than most, and bathed in emotions more sincere.

There's a couple clinkers here, but they're just a couple minutes long each, and Mark's worst work could qualify as A-sides on nearly any other singer's demo tape anyway.

I wish I could feel as well-disposed toward the Olympic Death Squad CD. ODS is Mark Robinson, formerly of the late and lamented Unrest, and Washington DC area indy label mogul. Unrest has almost always failed to suck, producing oblique pop music of the sort that the punkish kids like to doddle to when they wanna cool off. But Unrest broke up, and Mark's on his own, and put out this set of multitracked solo tunes with the name Olympic Death Squad.

It's weak, unfortunately. If a college friend did this and loaned you a tape, you might be impressed, particularly if you only remember him for playing Lynrd Skynrd songs in the dorm stairwell on Sunday nights back in college. But it's a letdown, given its pedigree.

The opening track doesn't help things. Mark flatly recites 'Hear me, hear me, take me, please me...' over a reptitious rhythm track, sounding like Depeche Mode, not sufficiently unplugged. A couple tunes in, and the music lightens up a bit ("Show Your Age" and "Sometime I Can Breathe" are nice). It sounds like Mark had fun, at least. However, everything's thin and underdeveloped. Maybe that was the point, but it got blunted somehow.

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