By Jonah Cashel, Contributor
[E Works Records; 2022]
Key tracks: “Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve”, “Strawberries & Popcorn”, “So Anyway“
Alternative-Rock band Eels released their newest album, Extreme Witchcraft late last month. The group has been producing funk-infused rock hits since the mid ’90s, and continues to this day with a steady flow of tours and releases. This record makes it clear that even almost 30 years after the band’s conception, there is no sign of slowing down. Band leader, Mark Oliver Everett (aka E), continues to mutate his sound and find new ways to tickle his audiences’ ears.
Given half attention, the tracks aren’t all that mind-blowing on the surface. They’re easy listening and nice to tap a foot to, but nothing that’ll stand out if played in the background. However, with some room to shine and some critical attention, there’s a lot of unique and captivating sounds to be found. For example, the guitar and drums are in near perfect harmony across the entire tracklist, which gives it a mesmerizing effect when played through headphones. It could be more dad-rock than some are looking for, but there’s a fresh quality to it that would please any indie enjoyer.
“Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve” is the first track that really grabs the attention, and it shows this is more than just another group trying to emulate the ’60s. A lot of these songs are reminiscent of The Beatles (specifically the bluesy stuff and the psychedelic stylings later on), but that doesn’t stop this track from sounding like it would fit in on a Gorillaz project just as well. The drums and bassline are infectious from the very start, and the lyrics effortlessly capture the charming weirdness of the record. Opening with “Temptation rears its ugly head upside again / I guess that at this point I’ll treat it like a friend” sets the tone of the playful but thoughtful rhymes present throughout.
A playful demeanor is very present in several of these tracks. “Strawberries & Popcorn” hits it most on the nose with an anthem for all the childish things we do at home alone. The instruments compliment that idea with upbeat meandering guitar accompanied by subtle organ and horns. A song about avoiding responsibility and eating “strawberries and popcorn for dinner” wouldn’t be complete without a minute-long instrumental outro to round out the theme, and this track certainly delivers on that promise.
Just as effectively as that childish feeling is produced, Everett proves he can slow it down for a more emotional message on “So Anyway”. That change of pace makes this track one of the most enjoyable on the album. After being buttered up with so much light-heartedness, it catches the listener off guard and forces a reflection on the people dear to us. The group refuses to give a one-sided view of the happy feeling they’re presenting, and this track serves as a reminder that the good times wouldn’t be so good without those we care about. It’s an important addition to the project which makes it clear that they will not give in to naïvety — even if it’s essential to what the album addresses.
Overall, the songs on this record are very effective in all that they are trying to accomplish. The execution is multi-faceted and resists falling into the cliche it knows it’s exploiting. It may not instantly strike its listener as a work of genius, but if willing, it deserves a second or third listen. The emotions conjured up from joy to loss are all equally poignant and unique, all heavily reinforced by polished and authentic instrumentation. It’s not your dad’s dad-rock, but it still captures a summer of love atmosphere while offering something refreshingly fun and enjoyable.