Eels’ “End Times” – The First Great Album of 2010

Buried deep within the ever-changing lineup and immensely active years of Eels is a unique, individualistic sound that hasn’t changed much since the early recordings, which gave listeners  just a tiny taste of what this band could really do.  Mark Oliver Everett (or ‘E’ to the layperson) has created for himself, a sound and quirky yet mysterious image that plays with listeners one minute and the next, makes them cry.

“End Times” is an album that speaks to a generation of waiting, pining youths who long for a change and for real communication.  It is voluminous in meaning for the masses but possesses a very personal and important goodbye letter for Everett’s marriage, apparently ending just before the recording of this album.  Ryan Adams once said “see? Emotional damage does pay.”  He meant monetarily; in  this case, it pays artistically.

We begin at– well — The Beginning, a little 2:16 minute acoustic ditty with reverb production that gives the song a lustrous rainy day ‘wet’ sound, instantly setting a tone for the album.  Everett sings, “walked out the door/didn’t have nowhere to go/didn’t matter that the night was getting cold” with the gravelly depressive wisdom of a 90-year old man.  The song is truly an emotional moment in time, capturing yearning, loss and breakups in the very best way possible.  It’s a storyteller song that acts as an abstract beginning to this album’s fractured narrative involving divorce and confusing strangers, voices in one’s head, and so on.

We switch from that little moment of sadness to the rousing, rollicking Gone Man.  Woe is Everett once again.  Someone once said (and I can’t remember who) that the best sad songs don’t sound sad, until you really listen to the lyrics.  The travelling brakeman-meets-indie-pop sound of Gone Man accompanies Everett’s flat delivery of “I never thought that I should quit/all the stupid crazy shit that I do/in the name of keeping good things away.” Damn. Damn.

Mansions of Los Feliz is a pretty standard Eels song for those familiar with the band’s body of work.  Acoustic, simplistic with an indescribable depth to the lyrics and an incredibly catchy, sweet melody.  Eels’ songs are like classic campfire tunes with a scary, moody edge.  This is one of their best in a while.  The “da da da”s in the bridge are too perfect.

End Times is a breakup song that does what the best breakup songs and stories do: tell someone’s breakup through the perspective or epiphany from another character, in  this case, a bearded homeless man raving about end times.  It takes balls to  sing a line like, “outside my window there’s a cat in heat/shut up,cat/and leave me alone.”

Apple Trees is like an audio version of an expermimental film.  It’s a teeny, tiny little story, only 40 seconds long.  Yet, it is one of the most emotional moments on the whole album.  How do you do it, E? How?!

This album is an alt-country/pop/indie rock masterpiece, one of my favourite records of 2010 so far, and a great addition to any record collection, whether that collection is familiar with Eels or not.  It’s like listening to AM radio while cruising through Mexico during Christmas break.  Listen to it — you’ll see exactly what I mean.

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