BRIEFS Eels, "Blinking Lights And Other Revelations" (Vagrant)
Don't be put off by the length or the subject matter of Eels' latest -- for the record, it's a 2-CD set that totals about 90 minutes and deals with some big topics: birth, love, pain, confusion, death and the understanding and acceptance of all of the above. The results are an immensely personal and highly listenable pop masterpiece -- a glimpse into the fertile mind of Eels leader Mark Oliver Everett.
"Blinking Lights" is a sprawling, often autobiographical statement that Everett has been working on intermittently since '97, and if the pervading mood is often a mixture of melancholy and anxiety, it's more than understandable. Within five years he lost his mother to cancer, his sister committed suicide and a cousin died in the plane that hit the Pentagon on 9/11.
What makes "Blinking Lights" a joy, not a downer, is the skillful and cathartic way Everett writes about his brightest and darkest moments. A judicious sprinkling of strings, horns, celeste and mellotron to standard rock 'n' roll instrumentation creates tons of variety and atmosphere throughout the recording.
-- Martin Bandyke, Detroit Free Press
The Raveonettes, "Pretty In Black" (Columbia)
In the three years since Danish outfit The Raveonettes let loose their three-minute chords with lyrics focusing on motorcycles, sex and seedy people, the duo's work has garnered more fans and a bigger following almost, it seems, by the day.
The band's third effort, "Pretty In Black," is set to continue that trend.
Whereas previous outings like 2003's "The Chain Gang Of Love" focused on songs done in B-flat major and were awash in dissonant waves of an echoing guitar, "Pretty In Black" is a low-key, love letter to 1960s girl groups, pop and melody.
The 13-song set lets the simplicity of a well-crafted song take the forefront.
Indeed, among the tracks offered up by Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo, the co-founders, there's a pleasant foundation of 1960s pop that firms up the modern sound.
The cover of "My Boyfriend's Back" isn't even the standout tune on a disc that sounds like a modernized offering of Elvis, Ricky Nelson and the famed "Wall of Sound" from Phil Spector.
Indeed, this is an album that takes the best of 1960s pop, drenches it in sparse production and haunting songwriting and brings out a result that's equal parts old-country howl, surf jangle and girl-group pop, but with a decidedly contemporary flair.
-- Matt Moore, Associated Press
Architecture in Helsinki, "In Case We Die" (Bar/None)
Architecture in Helsinki makes music for short attention spans. The songs on the eight-member Australian indie band's second album, "In Case We Die," are roller-coaster rides through constantly shifting tempos, miniature melodic fragments and everything-and-the-kitchen-sink instrumentation that recall the giddy randomness of Brian Wilson's "Smile."
"Wishbone" bounces between sunny bubble-gum pop and cinematic melodrama; "Maybe You Can Owe Me" begins as a slinky new-wave come-on before shifting into a shimmering instrumental breakdown.
All of this jumping around can be frustrating at times (if only that infectious synthesizer riff on "Frenchy, I'm Faking" didn't disappear so quickly!), but the disc is mostly breezy, refreshing fun.
-- Amy Phillips, Knight Ridder Newspapers