The bad news about The Evening Descends (Dead Oceans Records), the sophomore release from Oklahoma’s Evangelicals, is that anyone overhearing the music coming from your speakers will ask what you’re listening to with that kind of judgmental tone that makes you feel like you have to defend yourself and your taste. The good news is that once you actually listen to this album, you will have no problem coming up with a good defense. Anything but conventional, The Evening Descends opens like a radio being tuned to a station from another planet.
What makes the music on every song work so well is the mix of the strange with the familiar (extra credit: Freud’s essay, “The Uncanny,” does a great job of explaining how this works, and what makes it so appealing). The title track, for example, begins with ambient effects, but brings in soaring guitar riffs that remind you of prog-rock from the 70s. The guitars strike up again and the song picks up a beat instantly reminiscent of Nena’s “99 Luftballoons.” Breaking up all these recognizable sections are all manner of sound effects, thin, ethereal vocals, dialogue, handclaps, and harps. These kinds of decisions testify to the pop sensibilities of the trio, but also to their choice to move away from those sensibilities to avoid what has already been done, and more importantly, what has already influenced them. “Midnight Vignette,” on the other hand, takes the pure pop road, instantly contagious the way Peter, Bjorn, and John’s “Young People” anchored itself in listeners’ ears.
It would be a waste of space and a misuse of time that could be better spent listening to the album to go through each song, and what makes them so much fun. I will say that two particular songs, “Party Crashin’” and “Bellawood,” stood out for me as particularly great for the kind of atmosphere they created. The first, a song about a car accident with lyrics that go a lot deeper into existentialist thought, completely balances this kind of weighty subject matter with spoken word interludes. There’s not a moment I don’t enjoy hearing what I presume to be a doctor and the victim talking, and the exchange goes:
Doctor: (slightly inaudible)…Son, you’ve been in an accident.
Doctor: They’ve severed your legs.
Victim: Ooooh nooooo.
The delivery is in this kind of Mr. Bill voice (the clay character from old SNL skits) that makes you think he was just told that Prison Break was canceled. Add to that a mixture of the pensiveness found in Pink Floyd’s guitars and the pop sound of a Killers track, and the song goes to a whole new level. “Bellawood,” a song about an insane asylum, begins like “Thriller.” The B-movie music and effects make you feel like you’re at the drive-in, which sets the scene for this creepy song about feeling trapped and sinking into madness. What sets this song apart from the Michael Jackson hit, however, is that it retains the horror movie theme and cheesiness while also staying thematically terrifying, whereas Jackson’s song is just a good dance song with lyrics about werewolves. “Bellawood” is essentially everything that horror movies used to be: corny, over-the-top, fun, and yes, a little scary. These kinds of theatrical and atmospheric songs may make people nearby look at you like you’re crazy, but they deliver and bring you out to an alternate universe that is both creepy, familiar, and awesome to hang out in. It’s also been quite a while since I’ve found cover art that was as intriguing as the music, and fit perfectly. The bar has definitely been set high for new releases this year. - Eric Silver