Eels: End Times in "Nothing Not New"

Welcome to "Nothing Not New," a yearlong project in which New Times editorial operations manager Jay Bennett, a 40-year-old music fan and musician, will listen only to music released in 2010. Each Monday through Friday, he will listen to one new record (no best ofs, reissues, or concert recordings) and write about it. Why? Because in the words of his editor, Martin Cizmar, he suffers from "aesthetic atrophy," a wasting away of one's ability to embrace new and different music as one ages. Read more about this all-too-common ailment here.

Artist: Eels
Title: End Times
Release date: January 19, 2010
Label: Vagrant

Like Spoon, the L.A. band Eels is another act that I knew had been around for a long time yet had never actually heard. A friend told me last night that they actually had a couple of sorta big hits the way back in 1990s. I've never listened to the radio much (though when I was 10, I did call in to an Elkhart, Indiana station to request "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John, off the Xanadu soundtrack), so it didn't surprise me that I hadn't heard said hits. My loss, I guess -- especially if Eels' past efforts sound anything like their new one, End Times.

I kind of doubt that it does, though, because the music on End Times has nothing in common with that which you might hear on the radio. It sounds small, intimate, understated, and lacks any glossiness. Much of it sounds like demo recordings and, as it turns out, Eels made the entire album on a 4-track recorder. It all works to great effect.

As the title might indicate, the subject matter does not pertain to shiny, happy people. The singer, in a great raspy, world-weary voice, often equates a lost love to the end of the world (or maybe he's singing about growing old at the dawn of the apocalypse). Either way, I was hooked from the first song, "The Beginning," with its basement-tape sound of just vocals and guitar and the singer's perfect, Lee Hazlewood-esque phrasing: "She put her arms around me / She gave me a kiss / Everything was beautiful and free / In the beginning."

Sticking with the theme, in the title track, he sings: "I can hear it loud and clear / The world is ending and what do I care? / She's gone / End times are here."

And as the late, great Lee Hazlewood (one of my all-time favorite artists) would often do, Eels sprinkles many of these melancholic songs with just a dash of black humor. 

In keeping with the theme of "Nothing Not New," this band certainly is new and different to me. But Eels are clearly aging rockers, and their lyrics and style appeal to my aging-rocker sensibility. This music appeals to me a helluva lot more than that execrable Vampire Weekend record. But are the VW-loving kids going to like the Eels new record? I don't know, probably not. But End Times seems a lot more real to me than Contra. Eels are contemplating their past while facing an uncertain future. To me, Vampire Weekend are just goofing around (while, amazingly, being incredibly pretentious while goofing around). Maybe I'm just getting old.

What do you think about Eels? What do you think Vampire Weekend? How has your music listening changed over the years? Drop a comment below.  

Best Track: "End Times." Also, "Gone Man," the most rocking song on End Times, has a great guitar riff and good lyrics about doing the wrong thing and being alone.
Rotation: Heavy
Deja Vu: Thematically, any of Nick Lowe's great records from the '00s
I'd rather listen to: Nothing, at the moment.
Grade: A-

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