Elvis Perkins in Dearland

The Doomsday EP

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: XL Recordings

The EP is, by its abbreviated nature, frequently a peculiar, disappointing creature. Often consisting of little more than a couple of unwanted B-sides, live performances, alternate takes that didn’t make the original album and sometimes, inexplicably, a song that’s already appeared on a full-length album, the EP is usually just an artist’s way of tiding fans over until the next proper full effort. Even the best EPs are somewhat of a letdown, like settling in for an exquisite five-course meal only to be yanked from the table after the soup and salad. For Elvis Perkins, the task of delivering a quality EP is especially daunting. His sophomore full-length record, Elvis Perkins in Dearland, ranks among the best albums of 2009; following it up was bound to be difficult. Although The Doomsday EP pales in comparison to its predecessor, this six-song effort at least showcases the singer’s rich, absorbing voice and pays tribute to the folk and gospel influences that he’s hinted at before, but never made so obvious until now.

The record begins with “Doomsday,” a song that appeared on Dearland and ends with a slower, more stripped-down reading of the same tune. Though the track’s somewhat vague lyrics leave room for interpretation, it’s difficult not to partly view the song against the backdrop of 9/11, especially since Perkins’ mother died in the attacks. Mourning and joy, as well as devastation and perseverance (“I don’t plan to die/ Nor should you plan to die“) clash, though the singer doesn’t attempt to tug at listeners’ heartstrings or reveal any deep-seeded personal sentiments. Nevertheless, one inevitably gets chills throughout this latently emotional song.

The only problem is that the song has been heard before, and in better context. Followed by the tender “123 Goodbye” and the equally affecting “How’s Forever Been Baby” on Dearland, the emotional impact of “Doomsday” was undeniable. It unfortunately feels out of place on this EP, where it’s followed by the traditional folk ballad “Gypsy Davy,” which, were it not for a piercing electric guitar, wouldn’t sound out of place on a ’30s folk anthology. Hints of soul music and country-rock resonate throughout “Stay Zombie Stay,” while “Stop Drop Rock and Roll” channels the ghosts of ’50s twist-and-shouters and sounds like it could have been recorded with a different guy named Elvis and a different guy named Perkins. The traces of gospel that were heard in portions of Dearland are thrust into the forefront on “Weeping Mary,” a passable cover version of the Rosewell Sacred Harp Quartet song, before the album ends with “Slow Doomsday,” whose mournful and reflective arrangement stands in sharp contrast to the up-tempo guitars and exuberant horns of the album version.

Like any EP, it’s over before it even seems to begin and, like many EPs, the parts are greater than the sum. As individual entities, these songs are absorbing and fun; as a cohesive product, the record leans towards sounding disjointed and incomplete, bouncing from era to era seemingly at random. Elvis Perkins indeed seems like a throwback, an older-than-old-school talent who somehow manages to sound both modern and refreshing in spite of his somewhat antiquated musical yearnings. With the help of a diverse backing band that can channel the styles of various eras, Perkins manages to simultaneously sound familiar and unique, dated and timeless. Still, listeners will likely be disappointed that there isn’t more substance to The Doomsday EP or that Perkins didn’t just save these tracks for a more complete and unified Great American Songbook later in his career. Perkins and his band do an apt job paying tribute to their folk, country and gospel influences, but this EP will only hold fans over for so long. The appetizer is on the table. Before long the band must serve up the main course.

by Marcus David
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