Album Review: Eels

Album: Hombre Lobo
Artist: Eels
Label: E Works/Vagrant
Out: June 2nd

As we continue Reviews Week here at Animal Noises, we'll be talking about Eels' Hombre Lobo, which came out back in early June. Using the Spanish translation for the word "werewolf," the album explores that theme visually, while delving into the emotions that make up desire within the confines of the songs' lyrics. Eels frontman, E, has claimed it to be a concept album about that, and for the most part, it holds true to that mission. Many of the tracks appear to be grasping at straws, or rather, at something wanted, but unable to be attained. While singing, E is distant from his subject, both in joy and sadness, and that separation he's created allows for the successful execution of the concept.

As much as Hombre Lobo stays to a central concept both thematically and lyrically, the accompanying music is another story entirely. Jolting the listener back and forth between slower acoustic numbers, such as E's favorite, "That Look You Give That Guy," to brazen, eccentric burners such as "Lilac Breeze" that breeze through the motions at lightning speeds, the album has no consistency whatsoever in terms of mood. And that may be what I enjoy most of all. Normally I'd be critical of this type of endeavor. Usually described as herky-jerky, or a bit disjointed, I usually look for a collection of songs to fit smoothly together, and only making mood transitions where necessary and appropriate. Yet, Hombre Lobo, with all its adjusting, and literal bipolar nature, comes off as charming, and even necessary for the album.

On top of these differing tempos, styles are also a huge point of positive contrast. One second, E's trotting along at a relaxed pace which could even invoke comparisons to Belle and Sebastian. The next, we see a rock 'n' roll-infused revival session reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix himself. It's enough to cause a double-take upon first, or even second listen. How does any effort carry on for this long while switching on cue, between songs, and still manage a coherent thought? This album's method is the only answer I can come up with, I guess.

Even with these heavier, more electric moments though, one can tell that you're experiencing a very personal piece of work. The bipolar characteristics lend to the plot of the concept. An individual wants for something, and thus acts out in separate, but related fits of joy, rage and sadness. Some are subdued, and some are obviously more bombastic, but overall, each lends itself to the overall picture of desire. It's a tough emotion to handle, and just as difficult to describe. Still, I believe E is effective here in at least carving out some of the details for us, in the hopes of some comprehension.

As many movies as Eels has been featured in, and there have been a lot, the band still manages to stay fairly small-time and under-the-radar. It's a feat none too many artists can accomplish in these days of sensationalism and Next-Big-Thing hype. I commend E for it. However, I do hope it doesn't rob this album from gaining the praise it deserves come end of year for 2009. Hombre Lobo makes no small accomplishment out of itself, grabbing at various textures and sensibilities to convey the same experience and emotion in as many ways as may be possible. And there isn't a reach in sight. If you're interested in anything that will keep you coming back for more, or even just a partially-fun, but most just entertaining record to close out your summer, this could be what you're looking for. Similarities, if you still need any convincing, include The Flaming Lips, Spoon and Wilco.

Rating: 8.0/10

Best Track: "Beginner's Luck"

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