Eels, End Times
Wunderkind Mark “E” Edwards has released six albums as Eels. E’s often-autobiographical songs are heartbreaking — he lost his father, mother, and sister in a relatively short time span — but he usually adorns them with experimental, beautiful sounds (see 1998’s Electro-Shock Blues). End Times is still lovely, but the instrumentation is sparse, which makes the songs even moodier. There are a few uptempo tunes: the funky garage of “Gone Man” and “Unhinged.” E’s voice has grown raspier over the years, so songs like “Line in the Dirt” and “I Need a Mother” are especially melancholy. Beware: Not recommended after breakups, rainy days, or more than three glasses of wine.
The Scruffs, Conquest
Supergroups—with few exceptions, they disappoint. It’s what I like to call “The Traveling Wilbury Syndrome,” where all rights make a wrong. The Scruffs is a Scottish supergroup that I had high hopes for, featuring members of Teenage Fanclub and Belle & Sebastian. I was expecting a gorgeous, distorted jangle-meets-twee masterpiece, but it’s just a bunch of dudes playing slick, straight-ahead rock (“Conquer Me,” the cheesy “iPod Girl”). The harmonies are decent, though, and the album has afew bright spots, including the pretty “Days of Silver and Gold.” For die-hard fans of Scot-rock only.
Woodpigeon, Die Stadt Muzikanten
This is a mellow, unassuming gem from Woodpigeon, an eight-member Calgary band led by singer-songwriter Mark Hamilton. It’s a sweet album, tailor-made for listening in the dawn of spring, with pleasant strings, bells, horns, and organ. Standouts include “My Denial in Argyle,” “Duck Duck Goose,” and the layered, 7-minute “Such a Lucky Girl.” At 16 tracks, Die Stadt Muzikanten‘s tinkling preciousness might get a bit repetitive for some, but if you’re into boy-girl orchestral harmonies reminiscent of the Decemberists or Sufjan Stevens, you’ll probably dig this.