There’s an air of mystery surrounding American Culture; one certainty is that Pure American Gum is their debut album. The band describes its ten songs as “Music for Introverts,” and this might be true, but they also characterize a life-affirming byproduct of their namesake, specifically the sound of colluding youth banging out a batch of tunes openly celebrating relationships amorous and platonic, watching flicks, hopping in the car and tooling around, and the resonance of musical favorites. It’s out this week, in a vinyl edition limited to 300 copies, on Jigsaw Records.
Upon getting clued-in that a contemporary outfit had decided to sport the moniker American Culture, my initial thoughts hurdled back to the ‘80s and the names spied on Xeroxed flyers for all-ages hardcore matinees. Indeed, a gang wielding this handle would’ve fit perfectly onto one of those bills, the phrase scrawled in smaller print nearer to the bottom and with a tidy set assuredly covering most if not all of the following topics; conformity, religion, political nefariousness, organized sports, watching too much TV, and eating too much junk food.
Thankfully the circumstances here reveal a different reality easily discernible in the record’s title. Pure American Gum offers fresh-faced exuberance if not exactly innocence (the first cut details the sketchy borrowing of someone else’s motor vehicle), and the words to “I Like American Culture” underscore the point; rather than jingoistic, they draw comparisons to the everyday enthusiasms found in the annals of power pop as well as the impassioned ground-level grandeur of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner.”
Furthermore, the sprinkling of lyrical references, to Coca-Cola, soda shops, and the imbibing of cherry crushes for only a few examples, enhance a connection to a bygone era, one that gradually ramped up post-WWII and rapidly declined with the Kennedy assassination and the escalating war in Vietnam. The global appreciation of US culture was at a rare peak, and for good reason; rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, automobiles, Hollywood, American Lit and comic books/strips were cherished worldwide.
Cultural exchange resulted of course, e.g. the Nouvelle Vague and the British Invasion, and more than a simple throwback, American Culture are exemplars of this tradition, absorbing self-professed influence (and they’re nothing if not boldly referential) from the Jesus and Mary Chain and Guided by Voices, the former a Brit act unimaginable without US rock precedent and the latter a pack of wily Ohioans that reshaped The Who and The Small Faces, two UK groups heavily impacted by American rock and R&B.
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