Eyes of Love End of The Game

[Wharf Cat; 2018]

Styles: guitar pop, bedroom pop, dry sounds, string quartets, piano, some drums, maybe a Roland?, could be a Casio
Others: Jim O’Rourke, Harry Nilsson, C S Yeh, Courtney Barnett, They Might Be Giants

I first came across Andrea Schiavelli (a.k.a. Eyes of Love) a year ago with the release of Good Time Now, a split album with Lily Konigsberg (Palberta, Lily and Horn Horse). Schiavelli’s contributions to that album struck me as playful, almost ironic. They seemed to come from a detached source, but were crafted immaculately — or at least as immaculately as one might expect from a bedroom-pop artist of Schiavelli’s ilk (i.e., C S Yeh, Jib Kidder, Jerry Paper). And as much as I felt Schiavelli was winking through his words, I couldn’t help but fall into the trap, bite the hook, and give in. His work was functionally relatable, affecting, and entertaining as pop songs are at their best. It worked for me, even when it seemed self-distanced, defensive, or even insincere, but to some degree, those sentiments remain hard to shed.

Well, here I am a year later and something has changed. On End of The Game, Schiavelli’s first full-length as Eyes of Love, the songster’s earnestness shines through, unmasked and welcoming. The songs and the sentiments in them haven’t changed greatly (two of them are new renditions of tracks on Good Time Now), but their delivery is new. I get a sense that this is due to Schiavelli’s approach to and direction of the album. He drafted a minor-league Brooklyn super-group of long-time buds and collaborators to back him up, which includes the aforementioned Konigsberg alongside Paco Cathcart (The Cradle, Shimmer) and Sammy Weissburg (The Cradle), both of whom were a part of the Good Time Now sessions.

Here, however, their accompaniment is brought to the fore. The bulk of the album was notably and quite apparently tracked live, with all members plucking through their sparse and deliberate parts simultaneously. The takes allow for inconsistency and jangle, which is emphasized by a distinctive mix. We get to hear no-wave guitar tics retrofitted to match a soft-pop interior by way of what sounds to be a direct input mixed completely dry and clean. It sits beside campy 80s-Roland-y synth choir and string pads to support and somehow not disturb the breath and warmth of Schiavelli’s croon.

It’s in this approachable, if strange, light that the ironies within Schiavelli’s musings can be taken as honest observations about a world equally strange. When Schiavelli joylessly alludes to “watching Westworld and dying after midnight” on album-opener “Homowners,” it feels disarmingly nonchalant. Embedded as a matter-of-fact reality within the janky and fantastic world crafted by the band, there is little misalignment between the awkward super-contemporaneity of the reference and the non-signifying, non-genre-ed style of the band that delivers it. It feels to be a natural part of the practice rather than a bold or try-hard post-modernish insertion to a genre’s tradition.

A similar effect is found on lyrical standout “Players of the Field,” which is reserved in structure, offering only a few lines with repetitions and allowing the mind to conjure strange horrors in the words unsaid. Schiavelli offers,

Every time I’m outside I think about us, I think about us
Every time I’m outside I think about us, I think about us
Every time I’m outside I think about us, I think about us
Every time I’m outside I think about us, I think about us
Every time I laugh some part of me dies, part of me dies
Every time I laugh some part of me dies, part of me dies.

The humor works with the song’s campfire singalong structure, like They Might Be Giants at their most stripped down and horrifying (e.g. “Whistling In The Dark,” “Where Your Eyes Don’t Go,” and “Exquisite Dead Guy”).

Amidst the nine live-band tracks that follow this template are three songs accompanied by strings (really beautifully arranged by Sammy Weissburg) and two solo piano pieces. These lend a nice sense of flow to the sequence and provide a stark contrast to the stiff synth strings that adorn the songs elsewhere. The clarity and warmth of these tracks offer a sense of intent behind the quality of the record as a whole, breaking things up and bolstering the stranger sounds. It all comes together as a new, inviting sort of texture, delivering more than one might expect. So good!

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