Singer-songwriter Mark Oliver Everett, aka E, is a couple months shy of 50, but his weathered, sandpapery voice can make him sound much older. During his nearly two decades as front man of Eels
, he’s been meticulously tweaking alt-rock—using low-riding boom-bap beats to cool down rumbling guitar riffs, for instance, or gently elevating a song with flurries of strings—and delivering his lyrics in a dry, wry talk-singing style that sometimes reminds me of a cranky, stubborn grandfather with some serious city miles on him. Read Everett’s 2008 memoir, Things the Grandchildren Should Know
, and you’ll have a better idea why he sounds like he’s been through so much—his life has been full of grief, especially after his sister’s suicide in 1996 and his mother’s painful death from lung cancer in 1998. But extracting hope from misery is his modus operandi, and on the tenth Eels album, the brand-new Wonderful, Glorious
(Vagrant), he’s still hanging in there. The slinky “New Alphabet
,” for instance, paints a picture of a broken world that calls out for a different sort of language to help it make sense. On the opening track, “Bombs Away
,” Everett lets loose a wicked howl, setting the tone for a dark and brooding album, but there’s an uplifting sentimentality at work too, veiled at first but shining bright on the title track at the end. It’s as though he’s unexpectedly come across a happy story that the grandchildren should know. —Leor Galil Nicole Atkins opens.