End Times (Vagrant)
After a four-year gap between 2005's remarkable two-disc Blinking Lights and Other Revelations and last summer's patchy experiment in duality Hombre Lobo, Mark Oliver Everett is back in a hurry with End Times—the saddest Eels album to date, which says a lot.
Blessed and cursed by Eels' brief radio success in the mid '90s ("Novocaine for the Soul," anyone?), Everett (aka E) has spent 15 years making honest, thoughtful, fun, and heartbreaking records that were too weird for the masses and not trendy enough for the hipsters. Now in his mid-40s, Everett hasn't shown much interest in expanding his minimalist pop style, nor has he conquered all the demons that have followed him since the deaths of his father, mother, and sister in quick succession. End Times is certainly remindful of the album often recognized as the Eels finest, 1998's Electro-Shock Blues, but it's bleaker, in its way. While Electro-Shock dealt with family deaths and grief, End Times is about the end of Everett's marriage and how loneliness can be a lot harder the older you get. That's best captured in the soft, simple, but shattering "Little Bird" and "In My Younger Days." But Everett has always had a knack for having fun in the midst of a personal apocalypse, and the bouncy "Gone Man" and "Paradise Blues" keep End Times from falling into a vat of down-tempo misery.
End Times isn't on par with the much more pristinely produced Electro-Shock or that record's highly underrated follow-up, Daisies of the Galaxy. But it's a brave and almost uncomfortably intimate album that should be greatly appreciated not only by long-time Eels fans, but also by anyone looking for an escape from both radio drivel and the pretense of indie rock.