(Late) Review of the Week: Evangelicals
I meant to write this review last week, but I just couldn't find the words. It's not that The Evening Descends gets me all emotional. This record inspired the opposite problem: At first, it didn't make me feel anything.
(Fair warning: This is going to be one of those self-involved record reviews, so brace yourself or get out now.)
I became obsessed with Evangelicals' debut, So Gone, back when they came to Columbus and obliterated Andyman's Treehouse in 2006. I listened to it on endless loop in my car, dumped "Diving" on countless mix CDs for friends, geeked out at the show and even proclaimed So Gone my favorite album of the year. In retrospect Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury was definitely the best thing that came out that year, but that's neither here nor there; Evangelicals made a huge dent in my listening log, so of course I had high hopes for the follow-up.
When you approach a record with such lofty expectations, it can break one of two ways. Occasionally the music exceeds your hopes and dreams, but usually the other thing happens. You get let down. I heard The Evening Descends; I got let down. But I gave it another chance, and another, and another, until I wore my expectations away and could appreciate the music for what it is. Turns out it's quite good.
And with that, I've backed my way into praising the new Evangelicals record. Here's why:
The band has always been compared to the Flaming Lips, and rightfully so; they hail from the same town (Norman, Oklahoma) and make similar music, a brand of tripped-out pop-rock that feels like a dream but sounds unflinchingly awake. As the Lips drift further into the clouds of mediocrity with each new release, it's nice to have somebody else to fill the void they left behind. Evangelicals stepped in ably, capturing the roughshod bliss of Wayne Coyne & company's pre-Soft Bulletin days. Singer Josh Jones warbles and wails and apes Coyne like Coyne apes Neil Young. Under Jones' freaky ruminations, the band plays its synthesizers, guitars and drums with exuberance, haphazardly splattering melodies and rhythms against your eardrums like some brilliantly sloppy impressionist painter. Sounds drop in and out in disorienting fashion. "Stoned Again" pretty much says it all.
The Evening Descends recaptures much of that feeling, but it doesn't start out with the same bang as So Gone. Instead, the record eases into the magical, slightly creepy universe this band inhabits. First we get the title track, a sloppily assembled assortment of introductory song fragments. Then comes "Midnight Vignette," which sounds plucked directly from So Gone's second half with its straightforward structure and mellow, buried hook. At first I thought it lacked the freakout power to introduce an Evangelicals album; upon further review, I was right, but it's a fine specimen anyway and a good lead-in for "Skeleton Man," where this thing really takes off. A harrowing blend of moans, cackles, bashing drums and crying guitars, the song offers the kind of kerrrazy climax that makes this band special in the first place. This music really does come off like a dream, but paradoxically it doesn't make much sense unless you're paying attention.
The album's problem, as exhibited in the first couple tracks, is its failure to stir you from slumber. Jones is at his worst when indulging in limp-dick balladry; his band is at its best when it gets up in your face with twisted bombast. The pattern happens again in the middle: "Snowflakes" is forgettable and pedestrian; a few minutes later, the explosive "How Do You Sleep?" demands your attention. "Holy sh--!" Jones exclaims, contagious with excitement. The same phenomenon emerges at album's end, when the nondescript "Here in the Deadlights" inspires snoozes until the shimmering keyboard blasts of "Bloodstream" put an exclamation point on this thing.
The last album had its quiet moments, but they weren't so mundane as what's presented here. "Into the Woods" and "The Water Is Warm" were pleasant departures from all the noise, well-constructed pieces of music that got under my skin and into my head. None of the mellow moments on The Evening Descends raises the hair on my neck the same way. I got hung up on those downbeat tracks at first, but I can't deny the splendor of what's in between. Lips comparisons aside, Evangelicals are a unique presence in rock, and they still know how to craft a wonderfully weird rock anthem. I just wish they had done as well with their naptime songs this time as they did with their pillow fights.
Grade: B Download: "Skeleton Man"