End Times

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Label: Vagrant Records

Beginning with 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues, Mark Oliver Everett (also known as ‘E’) has steadily allowed Eels to become more and more of an individual pet-project. While he does work with various musicians, notably a core group that plays with him live, E is the brain behind each Eels record. Early in his career, Everett opted to abandon his solo moniker, aiming for a more band-oriented sound, but over the years, has experimented, following his bizarre pop-rock muse wherever it takes him. This culminated with the truly unique double-disc Blinking Lights & Other Revelations, an album that distilled many of E’s compositional quirks into one lovely package. Doing so may have exhausted some of Everett’s creativity- it took four years for him to release another album, last year’s lo-fi success Hombre Lobo.

So less than a year after releasing a concept album that proved to be one of his best,‭ ‬Mark Oliver Everett goes ahead and drops‭ ‬End Times‭ ‬to little hoopla.‭ Despite its speedy release, i‬t’s no less interesting or peculiarly specific than its predecessors.‭ ‬But while‭ Hombre Lobo‭ ‬told a story of an antihero’s approach to love,‭ End Times is Everett exploring his own demons more directly.‭ There are no elaborate characters or storytelling here. End Times ‬offers a masterful meditation on divorce and separation.‭ ‬It’s a stark contrast and fitting complement to Hombre Lobo‭,‭ ‬rejecting the latter’s hopeful outlook in favor of reluctant acceptance and‭ increasing disillusionment.

Stylistically, E refuses to stick to one particular form,‭ ‬tempo‭ ‬or amplitude,‭ ‬though he generally lets the sound of each‭ track find a tone that fits naturally with its theme.‭ ‬Both of these choices are wise ones; Everett injects vitality into his songs via varied rhythms, found recordings and ’60s styled garage tangents. His cigar-smoking pipes also carry emotional weight in a way they haven’t on previous Eels records. On “I Need a Mother,” Everett’s soft words tremble as he speaks to a lover he can’t stay with. Everett keeps that crack in his voice brief and moves on to the next track, deftly balancing a need to vent deeply personal sentiments and subtle appeals to the listener’s own experiences.

End Times is all about Everett’s own relationship that changed everything and its role in his decaying world, and that’s where it shines. These songs are refreshingly clear and observational‭ in relation to typical breakup songs, ‬viewing past events and the faults of a relationship from a wiser perspective than most.‭ “‬A Line in the Dirt‭” breaks cold, repetitive fights into the simplest actions, ‬saying,‭ “‬She locked herself in the bathroom again‭ ‬/‭ So I am pissing in the yard.‭” These are not the words of a naive teen but rather an aged man who finally sees the destructive patterns in a beautiful life full of regrets. Everett’s recognition of his own role in those losses makes his words special.

For better or worse,‭ End Times‭ is a sad-sack take on already sad themes‭; ‬Everett’s bleak outlook is expressed simply and explicitly.‭ “‬Little Bird‭” ‬contains the most heart-wrenching of these moments, E suggesting a traumatic breakup is really just another sign of the ugliness that covers the world he lives in.‭ ‬Further,‭ ‬a songbird on the stoop is his most available listener in subversive irony.‭ ‬Perhaps the album’s bleak premise is overwrought and its outlook far too pessimistic,‭ ‬but‭ ‬End Times‭ ‬is a thesis in effective minimalism ‭- ‬with crisp,‭ ‬biting lyrics and musical atmosphere that stays out of the way. Each complaint and sad memory is balanced with a beautiful one, no one song becoming cloying. More importantly, End Times takes one man’s personal losses and relates them to a larger world where entropy and pain flourishes. Everett is still sad, and still knows how to turn that sentiment into great music, but his prompts for pity are most interesting as they look beyond himself.

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