11 February, 2008

Proselytizing Pop

I'm not opposed to religion, but I was a little put off by The Evangelicals' name and album title, The Evening Descends. I sat wondering if this band was trying to write an album inspired by revelations with a big "R" or a small "r", and then my constantly music-starved mind won the battle and I found myself listening to songs with titles like "Paperback Suicide" and "Stoned Again". Suffice it to say that I was incredibly relieved, and even a little impressed by The Evening Descends. It's a mess of sound that haunts like some unearthly combination of The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Band of Horses' Cease To Begin. To put it plainly, it's sweet, but a little creepy.

The title song, which also happens to be the first song on the album, is a sonic hymn. It's full of chorus vocals and softly saluting horns, and the lyrics are pulled together by slightly-biblical and heavy-handed imagery like shadows and light. The almost a capella nature of "The Evening Descends" makes the following song - "Midnight Vignette" - slightly jarring. It's a bouncy pop song with a chorus of "do do do do"s for any non-believer, and a jangly guitar for music snobs like myself who have a hard time swallowing completely synthesized music. "Skeleton Man" follows with Arcade Fire-like percussion precision and roundabout orchestral exploration that leaves a careful listener with an acute case of sensory overload. It's not a bad song, but by the third listen, I have the beginning of a headache. "Skeleton Man" is luckily followed by "Stoned Again", that sounds fast and slow at the same time. Actually, I think the most appropriate metaphor for "Stoned Again" is a strobe light. The light flashes fast, but makes everything feel slow, and your mind is left slightly disconnected from your body. The song succeeds in being both catchy and psychedelic enough to be adventurous. It doesn't plod along like "White Rabbit" or soar like "Little Wing", but it ripples across the sky like water in a pond.

At this point, The Evening Descends becomes a little choppy. "Party Crashin'" which screams along at high speed and is backed by a barely audible police siren could actually be a great dance song. It's followed by "Snowflakes" which is greatly inspired by church hymns, and is as soft as its name implies. The next four songs are jolting, paranoid, and high-strung, but absolutely dissimilar in every other way. "How Do You Sleep?" is a veritable cascading sheet of sound that doesn't let up, while "Bellawood" echoes and shuffles along at the same speed as an unknowing victim in a horror movie. "Paperback Suicide" is a yelled song, punctuated by gentle guitar melodies and crashing cymbals. "Here In The Deadlights" is spooky and relentless, but slightly melodramatic with alternately smashing and echoing guitar. I am pleased to write that this album ends on a high note. "Bloodstream" is a tight song that probably best exemplifies the psychedelic pop music of the Evangelicals. It isn't jarring, it's pleasing to the ear and it's far from boring. For the first time on the whole album, I felt like the percussion and melody of the song were working together to create a unified sound, instead of battling for priority and control. "Bloodstream" maintains a haunting feeling, while using synthesized effects and classic instruments to its advantage.

Overall, The Evening Descends is a little uneven. There are musical gems on this album. "Midnight Vignette", "Stoned Again", "Party Crashin'", "Snowflakes", and "Bloodstream" are all excellent songs that are adventurous and attractive. "Skeleton Man", "How Do You Sleep?", and "Paperback Suicide" try to fit too much sound in one song, and become caustic in the process. This sophomore album is decent: sometimes blowing my mind, sometimes falling quite short of excellence, but definitely worth a listen.

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