Daisies of the Galaxy
If ever a person could sing, "Goddamn right it's a beautiful day" and make it sound great, it's E, the singer-songwriter behind Los Angeles's eels. Despite bouts of sarcasm, the eels take happiness, propelled by throbbing bass beats, and ride it for all they can on a "hidden" track and first single, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues." The upbeat mood couldn't come at a better time. The band's last record, Electro-Shock Blues, was a sad, hook-filled, cathartic musing on darkness -- specifically E's mom's death and his sister's suicide. Daisies opens with a New Orleans funeral march, a nod to both its predecessor and its current chipper vibe.
The aching song cycle of Blues, on which E looked at things from varying points of view, served him well in preparation for this record. Joined by drummer Butch, plus Peter Buck of R.E.M. and Grant Lee Phillips of Grant Lee Buffalo, E cranks out crystal-clear pop songs with clever, opulent production. The hooks are strong, and the tiers of keyboards include an ever-cheerful electric piano and burbling synthesizers. This depth works as well coming through tiny car speakers as through headphones.
Trip-pop lends itself to E's deadpan vocals, which accentuate his cynical wit. But E knows better than to be simply misanthropic. Though no victim, he has been through too much and has seen the splendor in small things. The band succeeds notably on the whimsical "A Daisy Through Concrete." Built around layers of bubbly keyboards and jazzy drums, the song swings with the hope that beauty will grow out of ugliness.
Rather than continuing to divulge his life story in song, E tackles both mundane and grandiose topics with a delicate touch. His first-person vignettes don't sound autobiographical; they are more universal. Imagining himself homeless on "Something Is Sacred," E neither glamorizes the situation nor turns it into maudlin nobility: "That could be me in a couple years / Suckin' fumes under the highway pass."
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The title track is a waltz, composed from a simple guitar melody, lush strings and horns, and reverb-drenched background vocals. The song is supposed to be about a kid who gets upset watching the apocalyptic Terminator 2, but the theme is much larger than that, finishing with a touch of hope. The wordless "oohs" indicate as much. Goddamn right it's a beautiful day. -- David Simutis