Review Summary: If this really is the last night on Earth, I have no regrets...
Comprised of singer Jennifer Charles and multi-instrumentalist Oren Bloedow, Elysian Fields have been able to accomplish the feat of not ever repeating themselves during fifteen years of activity. For their sixth full-length studio recording, the New York-based duo abandons the predominantly jazzy stylings of previous effort The Afterlife
for somewhat of a return to their indie rock-meets-dream pop roots. In doing so, they seem to have reached a bit farther back, channeling sounds of a time long past. Last Night On Earth
is very much an album that shares more in common with the music of the seventies which influenced the band than the beats of our current era. While retaining a strong sense of familiarity, the overall package is infused with a delicately applied modernism which renders it a bold new addition to the Elysian Fields catalogue.
The most modern sounding and perhaps the most melodic offering is the very first. "Sleepover" serves as a serene introduction to the album, completely lacking any dissonance and composed entirely of white notes, paralleling the childhood innocence depicted within the song's lyrics. This careful attention to ensuring that each component of a song perfectly connects is often reiterated such as with the inviting whispers of the earthy, folk acoustic "Old Old Wood" and the vivid imagery of its possibility to "drink from a stream where the starlight plays." Taking another route, "Can't Tell My Friends" experiments with an electronic vibe during its verses using delayed keyboard notes and a drum loop accompanied by some tasteful slide guitar and creative chord progressions underneath.
Despite all of the diverse songwriting styles and ideas explored, Last Night On Earth
manages to achieve consistency and remain grounded in its intentions due to the unmistakably unique quality of Jennifer Charles' voice. Always floating effortlessly through the music with assistance from the wonderful production, she avoids becoming swallowed up within the lush instrumentation. Simultaneously haunting and seductive, Charles never fails to enrapture the listener in her poetic lyricism and passionate delivery.
The one instance where the album's flow is interrupted occurs early on during the playfully dark lead single "Red Riding Hood" (for which they shot their first music video since 2001's "Bend Your Mind"). In addition to being the only song Bloedow lends his rough baritone vocals to, the harder edged blues-rock feel contrasts with the tone set by the songs both directly preceding and following it. It's a minor gripe towards a recording with few flaws. Speaking of Bloedow, his talent shines through in virtually everything he plays; a highlight being the equally brilliant piano and guitar performances on "Church of the Holy Family".
Last Night On Earth
succeeds at delivering a stimulating aural experience, comfortably holding its own against the rest of the duo's discography and proving that the well of inspiration hasn't dried up quite yet. If anything, Elysian Fields hint that greater things may lie ahead as even the best here is saved for last. From its spacey intro of swirling keys to the breathy, echoing vocals and deep bass line which later emerge, listening to the title track is an experience unto itself. These elements combine until you're sucked into Charles' storytelling and left believing that it truly is her "last night on Earth". By the time the final sweeping chorus dissolves into that sprawling hammond organ solo, the notion of being carried off into the night sky doesn't seem too far fetched, but rather a natural progression. And it feels liberating.