There must be something in the water supply in Norman, Okla., and I’m fairly certain the Flaming Lips are the ones who spiked it. The Lips are the biggest band to have ever emerged from the Midwestern college town, though far from the only notable ones, and as such, it’s hard not to hear similarities to their warped psychedelic pop in the sounds of other local groups. The Starlight Mints have applied a bit of their playful antics to a power pop crunch, while Evangelicals have actually taken tripped-out prog pop to an even greater extreme, making the lighter moments float even farther toward the sky while deftly stretching their weirdness boundaries. Their debut album, 2006’s So Gone, quickly caught the attention of critics and fans of dreamy, quirky pop, but it’s The Evening Descends that will prove just how far they’re willing to take this delightful swirl of oddball pop.
Jumping straight into the Evangelicals’ world can be a bit disorienting. In any given song, there are countless sounds meshing at once. They’re not discordant or noisy, but quite dense, with fuzzy guitars and clean guitars interspersed with billowing synthesizers and various other ambient ghosts zooming in and out. This becomes less intimidating as one sinks deeper into their odyssey, but the title track is a crash course in over-stimulation. No one movement lasts longer than 30 seconds, and what seems like a straightforward song disappears almost instantaneously for a strange instrumental diversion.
By song two, The Evening Descends becomes more listener-friendly. The atmosphere is still thick and gauzy, as it will remain for the course of the remaining 42 minutes, but there are discernable melodies and hooks. “Midnight Vignette” is what the last Shins album should have sounded like, with eerie synths and catchy progressions building up to the disturbing climax of “the end is so near/ the end is so near!” First single “Skeleton Man” features a chugging bassline intro, reminiscent of The Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion (Lies),” yet the song is far more dreamy and delicate. Paradoxically, it’s also far more chaotic, with bursts of distortion and noise, not to mention the maniacal laughing. Even in its warped approach, it’s something quite beautiful, and beautifully askew, particularly when Josh Jones unleashes the doomed wisdom “when someone loves you very much, you’re fucked.”
“Stoned Again” is driven by its hyperactive keyboard patterns, not unlike vintage Grandaddy, clanging bells and wailing guitar solo, which recalls Carlos Alomar circa Scary Monsters. The band’s weirdness climaxes with “Party Crashin’,” a deceptively beautiful tune about losing one’s legs in a car accident. While “Snowflakes” takes the mood down a lovely diversion, “How Do You Sleep?” explodes with art-rock pomp and intensity. Though the band isn’t above interjecting a “holy shit” in the middle, the opening lines reveal a beautiful sort of innocence: “well someone once told me the trick to a nightmare is understanding you’re in a dream/ oh but what upon waking, you realize shaking, the nightmare’s released/ and is showing teeth.” “Bellawood” takes a tale of a mental institution to a new plateau of sci-fi grandeur, bursting forth with heavy guitars and creepy Theremin harmonies, and an eerie stillness underscoring lines like “there’s a monster inside of me.”
Beautiful and relatively simple, “Bloodstream” closes the album with extravagant guitar effects and symphonic synthesizers, pushing aside all nightmarish sounds for four minutes of transcendent grace. It’s still strange, after all Jones is singing about a vision of Christ…shooting him in the eye (your guess is as good as mine), but damn, is it a wonderful song. It’s the ideal album closer, upbeat and sweetly melodic; it’s the kind of song you wait through the entire album to hear. The journey toward that song is at times sublime and at others, hellish, but it’s peaks and valleys only exist in terms of sonic spectrum. The thrills remain constant.
MP3: “Skeleton Man”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.