Brooklyn-based art rockers Elysian Fields have returned with their seventh album, Last Night on Earth, a sultry yet ethereal homage to a range of different influences, staying true to the band’s form, yet allowing them to stretch musically. Singer Jennifer Charles and her kitten-voiced charms bring the goods, as does guitarist Oden Bloedow, along with a string of musical guests, including pianist/composer Ed Pastorini, Jeff Buckley’s drummer Matt Johnson, The Antibalas horns, and string players from Bon Iver.
Like most Elysian Fields albums, the music centers around Charles’ breathy vocals and the slinky, dark musicianship. But where Last Night on Earth differs is in the subtle exploration of various genres, all done up with poetic and visually-ripe lyrics. The album opens with the nostalgic “Sleepover”, where the dulcet tones combine with the fondly frightening memories of childhood sleepovers. “Take me back home/I really am scared/Take me back home/I miss my mom and my bed,” Charles recalls as the jangly guitar lifts the song up.
“Can’t Tell My Friends” hops on an upbeat groove, drawing comparisons to trip-hop flirters Morcheeba, while “Sweet Condenser” borrows a page (pardon the pun) from Led Zeppelin with its slow, acoustic plucking, and breezy, summertime feel, backed by lazy strings that wave like a golden cornfield. The retro feel of “Villain on the Run” hits the sweet spot when the backup vocals reiterate Charles’ purr in classic ’70s style. “Chandeliers” is a soft and sweet piano ballad reminiscent of New Zealand-singer Bic Runga and her reflective acoustics.
Elysian Fields even explores their version of folk with “Old, Old Wood”, a beautiful, haunting song that paints pastoral images in your head. Lines like “I forge a path through the thickets and vines” and “drink from the stream where the starlight plays” are gorgeously evocative. The album-closing title track opens with a dreamy, celestial soundscape, accompanied by waning flute and percussion to sway to. Its fervent imagery and hallucinatory vocals feel like slow-dancing during the last night on earth.
The only song that doesn’t fit in with the feel of the album is “Red Riding Hood”, but that’s definitely not a bad thing as it’s one of the best tracks here. Jennifer Charles excels at duets (see Lovage for a prime example of that), and “Red” sounds like a cooing temptress dueling with Nick Cave. The Grinderman-esque boom of bass and guitar pump the song forward on a sultry walk through naughty fairy-tale land, where the red-cloaked maiden cries out “My, what big hands you have” against a fading harmonica. Do not be surprised if this turns out to be the theme song for a werewolf show on HBO.
Last Night on Earth is rich and varied, yet leaves a peaceful, spirited feeling behind when it’s over. Taking a cue from the cover, it’s a gorgeous landscape of music best suited for drinking under the stars, a soundtrack for your mind to wander to.