When Mark Oliver 'E' Everett decided to share his thoughts and fears with us on 1994's Beautiful Freak he set a template of off-centre, fuzzy lullabies for the chronically frightened which he would follow succesfully for another 2 albums until 2001's jarring Souljacker. 2003's Shootenany! saw them heading back to familiar territory but it never quite hit the mark. So a celebratory Londonist Album of the Week award then for the satisfying 33 track return to form that is Blinking Lights And Other Revalations.
What we have here essentially is a fusion of the styles and themes of the first three Eels albums. Recorded off and on in Everett's basement over the past 8 years it's an eclectic mix: from the mournful hymnal of The Stars Shine In The Sky through the quirky bontempi pop perkiness of Sweet Li'l Thing to the ethereal chorus of Marie Floating Over The Backyard. And at the heart of it all, Everett himelf: his hang dog and apologetic voice and his ever present optimistic cycnicism - he'd like something good to happen but he knows that life will always fuck you over one last time.
a pretty little lump of flesh, who's lost your way. Another night, another day
he sings over an urgent riff that keeps threatening to break into David Bowie's Heroes during The Other Shoe. It's not that Everett's an arch miserablist, rather an achingly truthful observer of life's painful moments. You can't help wondering what it's like spending time with a man who's suffered such a fearsome amount of loss (cancer, suicide, 911). He seems constantly to be hanging on to the coat tails of life and still deciding whether or not to let go. Ironically, it's this dilemma that's been firing Everett's creative juices for so long. Dave Simpson over on The Guardian thinks that
this may be one of the best albums to have arisen out of grief...resisting the urge to wallow, he has had the insight to weld some harrowing lyrics to tunes which recall the childlike, hallucinogenic melodies of Brian Wilson at his peak.
High praise indeed but still a star away from that perfect 5. Much of this album's understated production (not even Peter Buck doing his jangly Electrolite guitar, the rising and falling strings, chiming glockenspiels or autoharps can get in the way) seems resigned to the inevitable end and yet the experience is always a cathartic one; there's always the possibility for redemption. Andy Gill in The Independent concurs: all things considered, the prognosis looks good... in his 4 star review.
There's a little something for all Eels fans here, from the funked up Beck style pogo of Hey Man (Now You're Really Living) to the deeply pesonal musings of Things The Grandchildren Should Know (Eels songs are little vignettes into the lives of his characters but here Everett often turns the spotlight on himself) and well worthy of an investment for anyone new to the band. It's a sad but eloquent album full of tearful beauty and loss. Indeed it's
his masterpiece, a work so fully involving that you could, and should, spend whole days in its company
according to Paul Connelly's 4 star review in The Times. It makes us wonder how good a record has to be to gain 5 stars from Mr Connelly, or indeed Messrs Gill and Simpson. You can try before you buy on the XFM listening post and it's highly recommended. So now for something completely different.
Hot Hot Heat's second album Elevator arrives in a flurry of 'punk pop'epithets and a sparkling wee thing it is too, lots of spikey guitar led perky pop songs. 14 tracks determined to keep the indie dance floors grooving through the summer.
The thing about Elevator is that it's one of the most quintessentially British albums of the year. Made by a bunch of Canadians. Frontman, Steve Bay, a man with the most unfeasibly chiselled tune we've ever seen seems to have spent much of his summer holidays catching up with some Britpop history. From the brash run through early Elvis Costello in opener Running Out Of Time to closing track Elevator, all Radiohead guitar crunches and bombastic Muse chorus, they draw influences from early Jam, the Kinks, Blur and there's even some Supergrass in there on the fun pop of Middle Of Nowhere. Even with the West Coast Ska Punk of Pickin It Up (a belter of a track), you can still see The Clash waving in the background. OK, so none of this is exactly re-inventing the wheel but when done with such enthusiasm and vigour this melting pot of styles blends into a satisfying and thouroughly enjoyable whole.
That's another 4 stars then from Paul Connelly in The Times who also picks up on this
artful UK-obsessed pop music, recalling the Cure, The Who and Blur but always retaining its identity.
Over on The Guardian Dorian Lynskey wonders if this
shameless commerciality is a revenge-of-the-nerds gambit similar to that of Pulp a decade ago: poke fun at the pretty people, then make them sing along.
Well only time will tell but in the meantime Londonist feels that this is far too big a question for an album that despite it's smart-alec putdowns still just wants to party. Make your own mind up over on that ubiquitous XFM Listening Post
Comparisons to The Thrills may not necessarily be in everyone's best interest but someone out there likes them and it's a quick and easy way of getting the gist of HAL's music across. West Coast 60's pop, jangling guitars, surfboards and coke bottles with straws in. You know the score. What we have here is essentially the bastard offspring of the Beach Boys and Crosby, Stills and Nash. It's not a bad thing but halfway through it's just a little too good natured, a little too saccharine and something's needed to get the sickly sweet taste out. We'll take our pick-me-ups Canadian this week thank you.
Ross Bennett over on Gigwise is a little more accomodating with a 3 star review for
its excellent poptastic arrangements and carefully considered tunesmithery
and The Guardian's Caroline Sullivan also has a 4 star sweet tooth even though
there's not much drama or keeping-it-realness in HAL's golden, Beach Boys-influenced world, but who can't use a dollop of guilty pleasure?
And yup, you've guessed it. If you don't want to pay for your pleasure then HAL's HAL can be heard here.
In between Eels, Hot Hot Heat, and HAL Londonist has been listening to The National's Alligator.