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Josh T. Landow

CD of The Week

Week of 4/23/18

    Eels - The Deconstruction (PIAS)

    For Eels fans, new albums seem to come in a boom or bust cycle ever since 2005's Blinking Lights and Other Revelations. The sprawling double album was followed by a long silence, broken finally with a trio of albums in 2009-10, then a one-two punch in 2013 and 2014. It's not as though frontman E (born Mark Oliver Everett) hasn't had his fair share of projects, from film scores to acting to children's books, to punctuate that time, but still, when the dry spells break, it's always a welcome surprise. The band's latest, The Deconstruction, comes after another four-year break, but it signals that it grew from a rejuvenated field.

    The album's titular track positions the album to impress: it is one of the best Eels tracks to come out since Blinking Lights, and features much of what defines the band. The combo of picked guitar and orchestral sampling, the contrast between E's falsetto in the verses and his gravel-rough lower range in the chorus, and lyrics which straddle the line between rebirth and self-destruction give a primer of everything that has come before while promising a new beginning. What follows is a set that feels more alive than an Eels album has in a while. Songs like "Bone Dry" or "Be Hurt" tread common Eels territory, but are more vibrant than recent analogues. The former plays with self-pity and dark humor while laying down as good a groove as the band has in recent memory, while the latter adds another layer to the band's message of finding hope in unexpected places. "Be hurt," says E. "The world can take it. You're not going to let it destroy you." It's as signature a sentiment as he could write.

    Suffice it to say, longtime Eels fans won't find any surprises here, but that isn't necessarily a problem. E's musings on love (as on "Sweet Scorched Earth") remain in the Venn diagram of syrupy earnestness and bleak hopefulness, while his reflections on death and the end (like in "Rusty Pipes") continue to be dispassionate and clear-eyed. In these cases, familiarity is part of the appeal, but it's not necessary to be familiar to appreciate them. This isn't the case for every song; there are definitely spots here that feel like padding. However, even when the content itself feels like rote Eels-by-numbers (the bouncy but ultimately forgettable "Today is the Day," for example), there is a certain honesty in them. Regardless of the listener experience, they feel like exactly what E wanted to say with them. As such, it's easy to judge the album based on its highs. A fan will find a lot to like here, but new listeners will also have plenty to inspire a journey through the band's back catalog.

    Eels return to Philadelphia at Union Transfer on June 10th.

    Review by Alex Lupica

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