EELS – End Times (2010)

When last we left E & co. (about six months ago), they were making songs that were propelled by a dangerous sensual energy; sure, some of these songs could be sad at times (Ordinary Man comes to mind), but they were never maudlin. After some reflection, I’m not sure End Times is maudlin either, but it’s not for want of trying on E’s part. Just as Hombre Lobo: 12 Songs of Desire carried an extraordinarily apt title, so too, does End Times: these are the songs of a broken man.

Whereas Hombre Lobo walked the line between the raucous, the reticent, and the weird, End Times offers us no such balance; this is an album that deals almost exclusively in low-key devastation. Even the more upbeat songs on End Times like Gone Man, Unhinged, and Paradise Blues carry within them a heavy air of defeat. Ordinarily, this might make for some interesting listening (the juxtaposition of hopelessness against a cheery backdrop is one of the most time honored traditions of music old and new), but in the context of an album comprised of such delicate ruin, they simply feel out of place. Which isn’t to say that the rest of the songs on End Times necessarily belong; there’s something very finite about all of these songs, almost as if they were to composed to be snuck in on other albums, to break up the pacing or something – but somehow, they all wound up here.

Despite this, a lot of the songs on End Times are quite good, even though E’s spirits clearly are in the gutter. Little Bird paints a fairly simple but affecting portrait of a man projecting his feelings onto something that can’t project them back; it’s hard for it not to hit you on some emotional level, mostly because E keeps everything sounding fragile and doesn’t overstate anything. And when he does try to emote a little more, he succeeds, as evidenced by Nowadays (arguably the album’s best song); there’s a sweetness to the song that comes through in the backing instrumentation that catches you off-guard, and it’s no wonder why: it is quite literally the album’s only ray of sunlight.

All things considered, though, there’s something missing on End Times. When you step back and think about the album’s songs, they’ll only remind you of other songs he’s done somewhere else. Nothing on End Times carries any real weight if you contextualize it with the rest of E’s catalog. Maybe that’s a sign that he shouldn’t focus so heavily on pursuing one very specific avenue; yes Electro-Shock Blues is depressing, too, but musically, the album is raw and alive in a way that perhaps it shouldn’t be, given its subject material. The same cannot be said for End Times; it merely exists, and we can take from it what we will. Maybe that’s what E was going for; I just wish End Times sounded more apocalyptic and less subdued.

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