Mark Oliver Everett, the man who is the benevolent despot behind the Eels, is not adverse to change, and after the cool electronic surfaces and nervous lyrical viewpoint of 2018's The Deconstruction, he decided to take things in a different direction for his 13th album, 2020's Earth to Dora. By Everett's standards, Earth to Dora sounds optimistic, or at least he seems reasonably content most of the time, which is pretty impressive given the dour, edgy tone of much of his music. While most of The Deconstruction was built from samples, loops, and electronics, Earth to Dora has a far warmer and more organic feel. Even when a close inspection reveals that large portions of the arrangements are comprised of keyboards and drum loops, the guitars (either acoustic or on the jangly end of electric) make this music seem engagingly human, and "Anything for Boo," "The Gentle Souls," and the title track sound unexpectedly close to optimistic. ("Dark and Dramatic" is less joyous, as the title would suggest, but the mandolin that carries the melody is lovely and gives the song a heart that lifts it out of any sort of doldrums.) Of course, Everett probably isn't capable of making an album that's devoid of dark thoughts, and between the uncomfortable jealousy of "Are You Fucking Your Ex," the mournful reflections of "OK," and the sunny but uncertain "Are We Alright Again," there's plenty on Earth to Dora to suggest Everett hasn't sold his soul to optimism. Still, for an artist who often sounds like he'd prefer to keep humanity in general at a distance, Earth to Dora is the work of a man who is living in the real world and feels OK about it, clearly not delighted about everything but open to the possibilities of love, happiness, and good music. For the Eels, those are not emotions to dismiss offhand. In an era of malaise, Eels are contrary enough to take a shot at feeling good, and Earth to Dora is well-written and imaginatively produced pop for grown-ups that reminds us Mark Oliver Everett is crazy enough to try anything once -- even feeling OK for a while.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming