REVIEW: Evangelicals - The Evening Descends
We Listen For You Thursday, January 31, 2008
A good friend once told me that the sophomore slump was caused by everyone learning to play their instruments. Elvis Costello was a case in point. All the touring after the first album makes a band get more comfortable and proficient with their instruments so the second album has a tendency to become more of a showcase of what the band can do than well-crafted songwriting.
The latest band to fall victim to the dreaded slump is Oklahoma psych-rockers The Evangelicals. You may have seen their newest album, The Evening Descends, get recommended by P-fork. The Evangelicals fall into the tradition of post-Flaming Lips Oklahoma bands, which means they focus on effervescent melody and spacey instrumentation, cleverly merging the influences of The Beach Boys with the work of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie. So Gone, The Evangelicals debut, came out in 2006 and was a beautifully crafted pop album with well-focused songs showing off the melodic songwriting that makes central Oklahoma something other than a Sooner-infested wasteland.
In The Evening Descends, The Evangelicals have shirked their songwriting focus in favor of a loose instrumentation with spiraling keys, weird spoken-word moments, and trippy guitar parts that threaten to send each song overboard rather than advance the song. Or, to put it another way, the songs sound like they're from space, not reaching toward space. Or, to put it another way, The Evangelicals went for the space part of Bowie and left Brian Wilson in the spaceship.
There are some beautiful moments in the album, the opening to "Midnight Vignette" for example where lush harmonies overtake and merge into intricate instrumentation. Or, the glorious keyboard riffs in "Skeleton Man" which, with the crashing cymbals, makes me return to that moment I heard The Soft Bulletin for the first time. But, these moments are overshadowed by the weird introduction to "Party Crashing" where the band reenacts the usage defibrillator with horrible British accents. It's easy to get lost in the beautiful melody, but The Evangelicals always seem to undercut it, and not in the good way. Maybe The Evangelicals will find their stride again, but for all the glorious moments, this album seems lost in the mess of harmony without anywhere to land.