Other Victorians must be titled after those strange people from 100 or so years ago who never got in touch with their id, who lay on their backs and thought of the queen, and who gave us perfect examples of sublimation in their poetry. Well, maybe, but to think of the Victorians in those terms is to oversimplify. Likewise, the temptation may arise to see Evening as a contemporary sci-fi version of those dead Brits, but doing so would be a bit inaccurate. The self might be a bit hindered, but it’s in there, and worth digging for. On their debut album, Evening explores a fear of emotion and humanness, but too often the group applies the constraints of its theme formally, rendering its music an example of the problem being contemplated.
The album opens like an electronic symphony tuning up. For the first 25 seconds of “Being Is Automatic”, Evening gives us synthesized blips, echoes, and fiddling about. Without waiting for the conductor, the band kicks into the song, led by Matt Rist’s vocals. He quickly reveals his alien nature and his desire not to “leave a trace of anatomy”. With this lyrical theme, Evening foreshadows the music on the rest of Other Victorians. The phrase “being is automatic” accurately describes the sound of this album, which is robotic in positive and negative ways. The band’s playing and the music’s structure are tight; Evening clearly spends a fair amount of time in its rehearsal space. On the flip side, the music often lacks the emotion or energy that helps an audience connect with its hearing. In adding ambient elements to a dance-punk sound, Evening loses the excitement so vital to the genre.
Still, Evening makes its sonic forays intriguing on a technical level and doesn’t limit itself to one musical category. While the group owes an obvious debt to Interpol and other like-minded acts, Evening pushes out in new directions, employing effects and samples for interesting rhythmic and melodic additions, such as on “Breast Milk Saves 16 at Sea”. The album’s success in this area stems in part from the precise production by Alex Newport (At the Drive-In, Melvins). The multiple layers of sound remain clear and effectively match the mood of the music as whole.
The problem with Other Victorians stems from Evening combining the wrong parts of its peers and influences. It’s taken some of the aesthetics of dance-punk bands like the Moving Units but has lost that group’s energy. At the same time, Evening isn’t as computer-savvy or experimental as Radiohead, and yet Other Victorians tends towards the cold ambience of Radiohead’s more recent work. On a small scale, this album opens with the order to “conceal our spacecraft’s landing”. OK Computer, even in its automaton society, begins with an “intastella burst” (biological Yorke-ish dialect apparent even in the liner notes, in contrast with Evening’s linguistic precision).
Perhaps it’s unfair to compare anyone’s debut with one of the most-acclaimed albums of the past 10 years. The comparison suggests either that Evening lacks the talent to realize the worthwhile sound it hints at, or that it is a promising band with a bright future. What troubles me is the knowledge that the “band with potential” label often hides the truth about a mediocre act trying to stretch itself. Any average album could be used to predict a great descendent if you imaginatively add to it the things its creator didn’t bestow upon it. Evening has potential, but I don’t hear enough potential energy. I’m not willing to make an essentialist critique of the group yet, but until I see some more kinetic energy, I won’t expect anything great either. The band members’ technical prowess and above-average creativity should keep them around for a few more records, but the group will have to become more expressive (as it is at moments) if it wants to improve from this start.
Other Victorians drags after the mid-point, but it rebounds nicely with the final two tracks (the first and second parts of “A Given Time”). When the first part ends, a held note wavers nicely and creates tension. The final track is tight and full of longing. Rist sings, “Now that fake is so wise / Shield the age from your eyes.” The singer hides once again, as in the first track, but now he struggles with the pain of this seclusion. He wants fear to be kept secret even as he shouts out. The music fades away and a whispering voice suggestively dares its listener to sit in the flying saucer. Evening has brought thematic closure to the album. In creating its most powerful song, the band’s also hinted at an opening for itself.