By this, his fourteenth album as Eels, Mark Oliver “E” Everett is probably tired of being darkly acerbic pop’s most obsessive stalker, its noisy, never-too-folksy Nick Drake, its vulnerably bleak and beautiful freak. Eels may have made warmer music in the past (2005's Blinking Lights and Other Revelations comes to mind), but for the most part, distance, drama, and discord meant to enhance his most gorgeous melodies—while oftentimes actually hiding them—has been his long lot in life.
Co-creating Extreme Witchcraft with PJ Harvey producer and guitarist John Parish (with whom Everett also made Eels’ 2001 album Souljacker) is no way to change the dial, shift the sonics of sorrow, or skirt one’s obsessions, if that was ever a goal. So no change there. No problem. Therefore, Everett and his ever-shifting coterie of Eels are glad to be unhappy with bits of Bo Diddley–lite tremors (“Amateur Hour”) and the spare and soul-strewn likes of “Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve” and “Steam Engine” bathing the emotional terror of Everett’s lyrics in drippy amniotic fluid–like tones. While slower songs such as the character-driven "Strawberries and Popcorn" do their best to lift Eels’ mood, Everett even appropriates the aforementioned folky pastoralism of Nick Drake into something yearning and ever-so-slightly optimistic (or at least hopefully forward-thinking) on "Learning While I Lose.”
With positivity’s slight return, maybe Eels’ fifteenth album will move from Vantablack to cobalt blue.