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Disc review: Eels, “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett”



The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett

[PIASS America]

4 stars

Mark Oliver Everett has been observing half-empty glasses for a good while. He populates his album releases as Eels with those observations. As he drops album No. 11, “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett,” it’s obvious that he’s gotten damn good at it by this point.

Wry, sardonic and brutally honest, Everett the lyricist suffers no fools, and generally seems to consider himself the biggest fool of them all. Coupled with his consistently compelling way with melodic structures and a production ethic that might be seen as the definitive one within the world of indie rock, Everett’s lyrics speak directly to the heart of the attuned listener, and generally worm their way in there for good.

Many past Eels triumphs balanced Everett’s depressive tendencies against sunny, uplifting, occasionally even downright chipper chord progressions and tempos, thereby allowing the listener an escape route from the unsettlingly frank narratives. But “The Cautionary Tales of Mark Everett” is so stark and intimate as to be heartbreaking. Perhaps surprisingly, these songs are no less lovable for this fact.

“The pressure in the clouds has changed/Death rattles our window panes/Honey, we’re in a lockdown hurricane,” Everett sings atop a mournful electric piano figure during “Lockdown Hurricane,” as strings swell in the middle distance, combining to create a setting more wistful and resigned than ominous and foreboding.

Elsewhere, “A Swallow in the Sun” layers supple guitar figures above a funereal drum pulse, Everett’s husky voice bathed in gorgeous reverb, but not sounding particularly elated, nonetheless. “Series of Misunderstandings” commences with toy piano and vibes and finds Everett singing in a beautiful, near-whispered falsetto. Again, the song trades in Everett’s talent for stark intimacy and almost cruel penchant for unflinching honesty.

“The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett” is a downbeat affair that recalls Beck’s career-defining “Sea Change” album in tenor, though it outshines that earlier album in the lyric department. Laments for a misspent past rarely sound so life-affirmingly beautiful. This album might make you cry. But it will be worth it.

-Jeff Miers