Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
Eels – The Deconstruction – 15 songs / 42 minutes
Over twenty years and twelve studio albums in, Mark gives us yet more music that is catchy while also being dark and melancholy.
I have often wondered if Mark Oliver Everett, aka The Eels, aka E, is clinically bipolar. His entire catalog basically falls into two types of music: dark, brooding ballads that relay his feelings on the downfalls of humanity and the difficulty of merely surviving in this word; or uplifting songs (that often border on cheesy) about redemption and getting by despite the odds. While his darker-tinged songs have always seemed superior and more honest to me, they both work for him. He spends most of his time on this album straddling the chasm between genius and triteness, and while this effort doesn’t stack up to his best output (see Daisies of the Galaxy, Souljacker, or the under-appreciated Wonderful, Glorious), it is solid nonetheless.
The title track is catchy as hell and found its way into my brain for a few days straight, with its great use of violin and Mark’s version of the classic quiet/loud dynamic. “Bone Dry” finds him as melancholy as ever, angry and vengeful towards one who sucked the life out of him and left him for dead. This one is dark as a dungeon, despite the sha-la-la and shooby-dooby vocals that almost seem sarcastic here.
“The world is a pretty mean place, and no one’s got your back”. This line pretty much sums up Mark’s outlook on the world throughout most of his output, but there are a few bright spots to be found: “Today is the Day” is a rallying cry for turning things around and truly starting to live, and “Sweet Scorched Earth” is an ode to his wife and child – two things that make him happy in a world that otherwise just brings him down. However, even on this super-personal and sweet ballad, he can’t help but construct it around the premise that the Earth is a polluted and scorched mess that is slowly dying. This song is basically Mark distilled into three minutes, and it is a keeper.
While it is not all greatness (see “Rusty Pipes” and the album’s closing three tracks, specifically), there is definitely enough classic Mark Oliver Everett at play to make this a worthwhile listen for Eels aficionados and those new to the man alike.
Key Tracks: “The Deconstruction”, “Sweet Scorched Earth”, “Today is the Day”
Blackberry Smoke – Find a Light – 13 songs / 53 minutes
On their sixth record of countrified southern rock, these guys finally hit their mark. There is still room to get better (first part of record is better than the second), but this is their finest effort yet.
Blackberry Smoke was under the radar for me until I heard their fourth record, Holding All the Roses. The next year, they opened for ZZ Top on that legendary band’s North American tour, which stopped in Boise. I missed them, but can see now why they got that spot to begin with. This is easily their finest effort yet, and will make you want to dance at times and shake your hips at others. The album does taper off some towards the end, and they still have plenty of room to get better, but this one is a lot of fun and shows a band with real potential.
“Flesh and Bone” and “Crooked Kind” are two of several songs here that are arena ready, with great guitar riffs and just enough Southern swagger to go with them. On the radio-friendly and upbeat “Run Away From it All”, Charlie Starr is free as a bird, singing “don’t you worry about a thing, baby, we can run away from it all.” Standout “Keep on Ramblin’” features beautiful choir background singing, and reminds me of a movie scene set in a southern Baptist church. Robert Randolph, the spiritual pedal steel guitar virtuoso himself, provides some electric soloing and shredding on this track. In terms of guitar heroics, this is the highlight of the record.
Most of their songs are pretty damn similar, and they are at their best when they rawk – definitely weaker on the few ballads included. “Seems So Far” is fine but I can do without it, as it borders on the cliché. “Mother Mountain” is also fine, but they are better served to give us what they have mastered – soulful country/rock. An exception is the elegant “Let Me Down Easy”, featuring a tremendous guest appearance by Amanda Shires.
Key Tracks: “I’ll Keep Ramblin’”, “Nobody Gives a Damn”, “The Crooked Kind”
Greyhounds – Cheyenne Valley Drive – 10 songs / 39 minutes
These guys from Austin continue to bring the soul and funk to the simple garage rock sound on their fourth LP.
If I had to describe Greyhounds in one sentence, it would be this: They sound like what the Black Keys would sound like if a few years ago they had decided to start recording baby-making music instead of whatever pop/rock hybrid direction they chose instead. Andrew Trube and Anthony Farrell, aka Greyhounds, are both quite adept at writing soulful and earnest songs about love, loss, and life. Surprisingly this record lives up to their previous effort Change of Pace, which was a revelation to me a couple of years ago. This is a fine album that should make even their pretentious hometown of Austin proud. Rare are the albums that are solid from top to bottom, with no throwaways. This is one of those records, my friends.
Lead single “No Other Woman” finds a man so happy about his gal that he is bordering on delirious. In fact, we are told that there is nothing he would rather do than get her back up in his hotel room. Complete with handclaps, horns, guitars, and keys, this song has it all. On “WMD”, a bouncy track complete with some excellent and funky synth work, we are told of a man who used to rule the world, and some mention of weapons of mass destruction. I am not sure I understand this song, but I still really like it.
This album has a garage-y, live feel to it, with very loose production. This is never clearer than on the beginning of the show-stopper that is “12th Street”, which begins with studio banter before leading in to the opening of the song. The fellas seem to be enjoying themselves and are not afraid for their audience to know it.
“Credo” lays out what I think is a very reasonable worldview: that what happens beyond this realm is a mystery, and no one knows for sure. “Some claim to know that there are flames below for those who do bad deeds, believe what you want, love is all we’ve got, and we don’t know a thing; no one knows for sure.” Well said, sir. If more people felt that way, this rock would be a much kinder and happier place to live on. Solid close to a terrific record, and a great addition to their increasingly impressive career.
Side note – they are playing Alive After Five this June in what is sure to be an AAF 2018 highlight – be there or hear about what you missed.
Key Tracks: “12th Street”, “Credo”, “WMD”
The Amazing – In Transit – New batch of dark yet lovely atmospheric mood music from these guys. “Rewind” and “For No One” are highlights on an album that just didn’t deliver enough for me.
Wye Oak – The Louder I Call,The Faster It Runs
Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Hinds – I Don’t Run
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Sex & Food