EelsThe Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett(Vagrant)
Though brilliantly realized, Eels’ latest release skews toward maudlin, a descriptor that haunts the otherwise amazing work of frontman Mark Oliver Everett. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett is filled with the same elaborate sense of melody and ornate production that are a hallmark of Eels. Yet Everett seems content to read from the same mournful narrative that propelled the bands’ earlier work, which seems to be rooted somewhere in Chapter 17 of Huckleberry Finn—that episode features dead poet and plucky romanticizer of death, Emmeline Grangerford. Unfortunately there’s no room for irony or satire in Eels’ expression, resulting in sound that is, like Emmeline’s poetry and drawings, filled with an awkward beauty that becomes slightly disturbing after repeated exchanges. There’s plenty of decent tuneage on this album, and “Good Morning Bright Eyes” is a gem. But this album begs the question: Why is a 51-year-old rocker still crooning about lost love?
Listening to Loom, the debut full-length by post-Britpop unit Fear of Men, I dreamed I was playing a new Cranberries album with an invigorated Robert Smith guesting on jangly guitar and Moby in the producer’s chair. Serio. In reality Jessica Weiss and company do an admirable job of rising above influence and derivation for a refreshing take on a genre whose clarity has only recently been compromised by nostalgia. With just a bit of shoegaze and dreamy idyll thrown in for sauce, Loom is like a bright room with dark corners. The opening sequence, “Alta/Waterfall,” cruises between daybreak and dusk with a deftness of tone that makes longing seem a state of comfort or repose; any underlying angst is an expected but tolerable consequence of emotional experience. Occasionally this conceit verges on saccharine, but here, sweet melodies are built on dark lyrical shores.
The new 7d Media recording of local funky alt-jazz, jam band-ish heavyweight ensemble Pray For Brain is titled None of the Above, which one supposes has to do with the slippery wheel of genre skidding this way and that while avoiding landing solidly or with any traction on the aforementioned power trio. Guitarist and oud master Mustafa Stefan Dill, percussionist Jefferson Voorhees and bassist Christine Nelson have succeeded in creating a deeply groovy collection of musical explorations that oscillate willfully between pure freedom and deep restraint. This ensemble has chops from here to there, and they aren’t afraid to pronounce their ascendancy with confident virtuosity tempered with an Eastern inflection. It’s drifty, mind-expanding stuff, and Dill’s chunky guitar—laced with sharp leitmotifs and wandering solos—is solidly anchored by a rhythm section that’s as deep and complex as any ocean. Turn the volume up to 11 for this one, kids.