Mark Oliver Everett holds a special in my heart. he’s one of the most underrated modern American singer songwriters to do it in my opinion.
It’s rarely been flashy, but it’s an impressive body of work filled with bleak and melancholic songcraft, a clear expressive platform for “E” to funnel his tragic experiences life has brought him but hindsight is also a wonderful thing when it comes to discographies and careers of musicians, when you look back his first three albums especially, it will transport you through the gloriousness of late ’90s early ’00s.
If you’re in the unfamiliar column do yourself a favour and spin those aforementioned records – Beautiful Freak (1996), Electro-shock Blues (1998) and Daisies of the Galaxy (2000) I can guarantee you an avenue of fulfilment. When you are done there, pick up a copy of his autobiography, Things the Grandchildren Should Know – one of the most candid and inspiring books ever put out by a musician.
It was a year or so later that E would hook up with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse) and release the refreshing Souljacker (2002) – an upbeat guitar album that employed elements of simplicity and grunge which pushed the Eels into different directions which was the refreshing and exciting.
20 years later and nine albums bar one were all self-produced by E himself until this year’s Extreme Witchcraft in which Parish was re-employed to garner similar results two decades down the track and the outcome is bright.
In a reactionary career with the output of now 14 records, it’s a challenge to stay interesting, but this is the kind of artist that’s always stayed reliable and has always been permeating the musical landscape whether your radar was blinking or not.
Extreme Witchcraft‘s title alone is enough to ensure some kind of interest is piqued by fans and the neutral. The story behind it is even more amusing as E reacted to a news story including Beyonce and the lawsuit from a band member. If you go in cold on this fourteenth outing you’ll know straight away that this is E turning the amps up to 11 and the guitars on fuzz straight outta the garage – this I know can split his audience with many preferring the candid material but, with rock so far from the mainstream, it’s an incredibly welcome affair with 12 entertaining-as-fuck tracks.
Amateur Hour and I Know You’re Right are the one-two punch to get things off the ground, followed by the expected and well earned single, Good Night on Earth – a sound not miles away from when the Black Keys hit it big and disappeared, but rather strong in theme – a fuck you to the pandemic but a let’s-try-find-solace-in-something that means something to you, not to mention the technical flourishes that Parish adds to the proceedings.
Steam Engine is the blues surf-rock track you didn’t know you needed. What It Isn’t and Better Living Through Desperation continue the riotous rock brashness stamped all over this recording lathered with the classic Eels quirk, until we get a fukan foot stomping Don’t Bring Me Down ala ELO in the magic – another superb moment in offering.
However, I was always a sucker for those quieter Eels moments, so closing track Learning While I Lose is like a beautiful warm hug, effortlessly casually strummed chords over the iconic husk vocal delivery E will forever be associated with but special mention goes out to the track Strawberries and Popcorn which for me is the Eels signature sound – tell me I’m wrong. Wispy, poppy and introspective a bittersweet anthem about the trials and tribulations about new found freedom.
This time around without all the extra superlatives that come with this kind of review I’m not going to say Extreme Witchcraft is a return to form, it won’t make headlines or any end of year lists, but this is another wonderful release for the Eels and just nothing other than a personal win for the music fan.
We’re not really for ratings around this place, but if I were to score this thing I’d give it a go out and give it a spin as soon as you read this out of 10.
Extreme Witchcraft is out now via PIAS. Purchase here.