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Eels: End Times (Vagrant)

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End Times, Eels' self-described "divorce" album—released a mere seven months after Hombre Lobo—overcomes its thorny conceit to succeed as a modest triumph. Sure, the premise of an introspective, morose Eels album feels redundant given the band's exhaustive oeuvre of sad-sack ballads and mopey rockers. Yet Eels, which is primarily the outlet of singer/songwriter E (Mark Oliver Everett), have always managed to craft unforgettable songs of wizened, rugged beauty that obfuscate the personal torment that wrought them (such as the death of both parents and a sibling's suicide).

Composed mostly of solo home recordings by E, the majority of End Times sounds like an open wound, its rawness exposing both stunning poignancy and vulnerability. Lyrically, E balances the album's cold edge with frank observations, like on the plaintive acoustic closer "On My Feet" ("I pushed the bed against the window today / so there'd only be one side"), or the string-laden piano number "A Line in the Dirt" ("She locked herself in the bathroom again / so I am pissing in the yard").

Rather than indulging in whiny emotive reflexes, E explores the roots of his sadness. Given his biography, the quietly plinking piano ballad "I Need a Mother" is heartrending, as E intones, "I need a mother / I'm sorry, but it's true." Nevertheless, the rote electric-blues boogie of "Paradise Blues" is dull and the sound-collage instrumental "High and Lonesome" is an unnecessary indulgence.

Still, it's an ideal hard record for hard times.

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