New York duo Elysian Fields, Oren Bloedow and Jennifer Charles, make music somewhere between tortured indie torch songs and the New American Gothic. Last Night on Earth is their first U.S. release in a decade, and it does nothing but conjure questions about why they (a.) got released from major label-dom all those years ago and (b.) are little more than “big in Europe.”
Neither of the musical subdivisions they straddle has been developed enough to truly stand out and stand on its own. Worse, Bloedow as a player and Charles as a songstress inject precious little drama into the proceedings. You can tell Last Night on Earth wants to deliver sexually-charged and smoke-tinged gravitas. It simply doesn’t.
Alt-rock chanteuses seem like appropriated muses throughout the album; “Church of the Holy Family,” for example, has many sounds in common with Fiona Apple’s hit “Shadowboxer,” while on “Chance” there are scooped notes and theatric arrangements from the Dresden Dolls school. Charles’ wispy vocals on “Sweet Condenser,” meanwhile, fail to support the Eastern melodies in Bloedow’s best instrumentation on the album—this isn’t even Nouvelle Vague, that’s for sure.
Charles’ tag as the weak link here is surprising given the pedigree of her past collaborations (Foetus, John Zorn, trip-hop collective Lovage). The album’s opening pair of songs suggest she’s a Twilight or True Blood soundtrack caricature; “Sleepover” gets torpedoed by a childish narrative-within-a-narrative, while the interplay with and descriptions of a gravel-voiced male antagonist in “Red Riding Hood” are well nigh predictable.
The crazy love in “Chandeliers” and the aging lost love in “Johnny” would work the best on Last Night on Earth were they not muddied by loud production on Bloedow’s playing (on the former) or by Charles dipping from fragile vocals to mushmouthed ones (on the latter). Maybe this reviewer’s definition of “sensuous” differs from yours, but alluring music deserves to be carried off with more heft than Elysian Fields provide.