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[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

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[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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No Age - Everything in Between
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Sub Pop
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Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
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Fat Possum
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January 14, 2008
An exerpt from the official Eels biography:
1998
At 19, E found his father dead. His troubled sister, Elizabeth, committed suicide in 1996. And now his mother was terminally ill with lung cancer. That was his entire family. He ultimately decided he could not ignore these things artistically, feeling that anything else would be an act. So he set about the writing and recording of an album that was inspired by, and that would deal with the tragedies in his life, but only if it could offer a new point of view, and a positive resolution.

Eels leader E (Mark Oliver Everett) called the band's 2005 double album, Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, "a love letter to life itself in all its beautiful, horrible glory." His assessment of that album is really a fitting description of the band's entire catalogue. Fusing elements of folk, rock, hip-hop, blues, and jazz, Everett has acutely explored life's darkest recesses, including his own devastating losses, but managed to find tempered joy in a hard-won hope.



-


Eels
Meet the Eels: Essential
Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1

Universal
Rating: 8.9/10 ?
-
-


Eels
Useless Trinkets: B-Sides,
Soundtracks, Rarities, Unreleased

Universal
Rating: 8.5/10 ?
-


Of course, long-time Eels fans have known all that for years. But for anyone unfamiliar with the band, Meet the Eels: Essential Eels 1996-2006, Vol. 1 provides an excellent introduction to the work of Everett and his ever-changing assemblage of band mates.

Four songs from the Eels' debut album, Beautiful Freak, open the disc. Though they lack the emotional impact of E's more personal material, the songs exhibit his penchant for pitch black humor and his ability to mesh understated melodies with a farrago of sonic experimentation.

The bleak lyrical tone continues with three tracks from 1998's Electro-Shock Blues on which E openly grapples with his mother's battle against cancer and the loss of his sister to suicide. Though the pop sound of "Last Stop: This Town" somewhat belies its melancholy lyrics, a heavy, unrelenting ache permeates "3 Speed" and "Climbing to the Moon" (a Jon Brion remix)-"Got a sky that looks like heaven/ Got an earth that looks like shit." Such highly personal material runs the risk of alienating the listener, but in Everett's hands the songs resonate with an undeniable poignancy.

The four songs from Daisies of the Galaxy are really a microcosm of the Eels' eclectic sound. Piano, strings, and woodwinds may seem like strange choices for a song called "It's a Motherfucker," but the somber lament for his mother is heartbreakingly beautiful. His gift for pop hooks shines on "I Like Birds" and the sardonic "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" while "Flyswatter" rivals the best of Beck's post-modern pastiches.

The abrasive boogey "Souljacker Part I" is the first of three tracks from Souljacker, followed by the unsettling, Latin-imbued "That's Not Really Funny" and the breezy, unabashed love song "Fresh Feeling." "Saturday Morning," an exuberant, straight-ahead rocker, and the laid-back "Love of the Loveless" make the cut from Shootenanny!. "Dirty Girl" is included as well, but in its With Strings: Live at Town Hall form. Five songs appear from the 33-song epic Blinking Lights, highlighted by the insouciant "Losing Streak" and "Hey Man (Now You're Really Living)" and the plaintive, folk-based "Railroad Man," a song tailor-made for the worn LP rasp of E's world-weary voice.

As every music buyer knows, a "best of" collection wouldn't be a "best of" collection without a couple of omissions or inclusions to quibble about. In this case "I Need Some Sleep," which originally appeared on the Shrek 2 soundtrack, should've been placed on Useless Trinkets (I'll get to that album in just a second). Though "I Like Birds" isn't bad, there are superior songs on Daisies that could've replaced it-"Grace Kelly's Blues," "Packing Blankets," "Wooden Nickels," "Ant Farm." But the biggest head-scratcher is how only three tracks make the cut from Electro-Shock Blues, especially when the previously unreleased cover of "Get Ur Freak On" does-a cover of a crappy song is still a crappy song. And how can a previously unreleased song be "essential"? Still, the 23 non-Missy Elliott tracks showcase a solid portion of the best of E's genre-hopping songwriting and give new listeners plenty of reason to invest in the band's past albums.

E and company have plenty to offer long-time fans, too, with the 50-song collection Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased. With so many songs, there are some superfluous tracks to be sure-two alternate versions of "Novocaine for the Soul," a revved up live version of "I Like Birds," a bland alternate version of "Souljacker Part I" to name a few-but the treasure far outweighs the trash. "Mr. E's Beautiful Remix" ups the blues quotient while retaining all the catchiness of the original ("Mr. E's Beautiful Blues"), and tracks like "Rotten World Blues" and "Eyes Down" offer some of the band's finest scuffed up 60's pop. But even more compelling are the spare ballads, particularly "Skywriting," a poetic musing on mortality, and the utterly spellbinding live performances of "Manchester Girl" (BBC) and "Dark Side of the Street," a cover of the James Carr classic, on which E's voice, carrying a moving urgency, blends beautifully with the female harmony.

And as if 74 songs and two albums aren't enough, each album comes with a DVD--Essential with 12 videos and Useless Trinkets with six songs from the band's 2006 Lollapalooza performance.

The albums are certainly one heck of a belated Christmas gift for fans, but they're more than that. They're a testament to Everett's singular talent as a songwriter and a celebration of a band that has continued to produce fresh, vital music when many of their'90s alt-rock contemporaries have long since "sputtered out."

SEE ALSO: www.eelstheband.com

--
Jason Middlekauff
No biographical information is currently available.

See other articles by Jason Middlekauff.

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