by Joe Thomas
End of the Game was recorded live. Like, completely live. All instruments (including vocals!) recorded simultaneously with zero overdubs, and mixed with little to no digital effects. The mere thought of making an entire album like this fills me with neurotic dread. Studiously committing songs to tape in one fluid motion without the ability to subsume any artistic insecurities in umpteen layers of guitar and synth might seem like it requires a confidence in your arrangements that's borderline ludicrous. In the case of Eyes of Love, it sounds like the lateral thought of a genuine eccentric, a guileless decision made in service to the production of an unfussy pop record that's straightforward and simple, yet skewed and full of character.
There is a David Byrne-like naïveté to songwriter Andrea Schiavelli's lyrics. "Players of the field don't think about love", he coos unaffectedly on the cowpunk jaunt of album highlight "Players of the Field." "Every time I laugh some part of me dies," he states plainly for the emotional record, inviting neither pity nor derision, happy to let some things be neither happy nor sad, but maybe both or neither. The instrumentals too are weird while somehow being pointedly un-self-conscious. The synth parts are all played in the default synthetic vocal-choir patch found on any bargain bin Casio. The guitar is so dry and unadorned that the sound of the pick hitting the strings is often as audible as the chords they ring out. Together (and often in unison) they can pull off some deceptively complicated rhythms and licks that would sound contrived in other hands and render them serviceable to Schiavelli's uniquely elemental songwriting. The songs sound angular, but not necessarily pointed; avoiding both the ornate and the austere.
One of the best things about Schiavelli's relentlessly candid style of songwriting proves itself to be the mutability of his songs. Across End of the Game, several of his compositions are transposed for string quartet to become sweetly aching chamber pop gems. And then there are two solo piano pieces, titled unceremoniously and true-to-form "Piano 1 Final" and "New Piano." Like their slightly more propulsive guitar-driven cousins, the string-backed and piano-led songs never quite settle on a concrete feeling, content to hover curiously in an emotional interstitiality. In a world where it feels like ever-diffuse voices are constantly clamoring for space and attention and sifting the worthy from the not becomes an increasingly taxing mental burden, it's precisely this album's reluctance to impose itself that makes it such an inviting and comforting listen. It's the soundtrack to figuring out how you feel about stuff and it doesn't quite sound like anything else out there right now.