There’s nothing I enjoy more than picking out the earliest seeds of talent in an unimpressive new band. “Just you watch,” I say, “this band is going to be massive.” So it’s always a bit disconcerting when a band crashes down out of the blue fully formed. That’s why, when I first listened to Evans the Death, I figured it must be a new project from some 40-something Sarah Records veterans. It’s not that it sounds like middle-aged music, but it is certainly far too sophisticated to be any twee kids’ debut. If this were actually the first album from a young band, it would put all of us to shame.
It is, and it has. Evans the Death is a gaggle of fresh-faced youths from London, England, and this self-titled record is their first full-length foray into the world. The music is classic indie pop: short, sweet, melody-driven songs with a noisy, messy intimacy that keeps them “indie.” What stands out about this band isn’t that they’ve invented anything drastically new or attempted some overly-ambitious opus. It’s that they’ve created what, as far as I can tell, is the Perfect Pop Album.
If there’s anything I like more than wagering told-you-sos on unlikely bands’ eventual success, it’s finding something to criticize – but try as I might, I can’t find one thing I would change about this LP. I’m not saying it’s Rubber Soul or anything, but I can’t think of one better pop record to come out in the last few years. And the beautiful thing is, there’s nothing to it, no wild electronics or self-conscious production effects, just guitars and drums and singing. ‘Cause when you’ve got songs this good, you don’t need any of that junk.
Only two songs on Evans the Death crack three minutes, and those two not by much. There’s also not a song among them that couldn’t hold its own as a single. The arrangements are rich with overdriven guitars and clever bass hooks, and the vocal melodies are complex enough to be interesting but still hopelessly catchy. And by the way, lead vocalist Katherine Whittaker has pipes – just when I thought on-key singing with good tone was dead forever. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Beat Happening as much as the next kid but Evans the Death’s brand of indie pop is not meant to follow in the twee tradition of Calvin-how-flat-can-we-sing-it-Johnson. It’s indie pop made by young adults who aren’t afraid to sound like adults.
This band has an ear for details too. On the raging opener, “Bo Diddley”, a delicious distorted guitar slides to a perfect stop in the breath before the chorus. The unassuming drumming on “Letter of Complaint” breaks up a slow 4/4 so it sounds almost like a waltz. And where “Wet Blanket” drops to a hum before its final chorus, the bass is adorned with a quiet net of scrapes and chirps. The phenomenal “I’m So Unclean”, with its flawless, surging melody, stands out as the best track, but “Bo Diddley”, “Threads” and “Telling Lies” are tied for a close second. “Letter of Complaint” turns down the volume and the tempo, but the twisting tune and careful arrangement never drag. The acoustic closer “You’re Joking”, the only song not written by Dan Moss but by his brother Olly, disarms with its subdued simplicity.
The lyrics are oddly antisocial, although it’s easy to overlook this with the songs’ youthful energy and enticing melodies. But at least three or four tracks are dedicated to wanting to stay at home and be left alone. Meanwhile, the deeply paranoid “Threads” refers to the British Cold War film about an England wiped out by nuclear war. You won’t catch the band taking itself too seriously, though; there’s always a hint of the tongue-in-cheek. “Catch Your Cold” is an entertaining list of things the author is afraid of (“public transport officials”) and not afraid of (“catching your cold”). And I don’t want to give too much away, so I will just say that “A Small Child” is certainly one of the funniest songs to see vinyl in 2012.
A pop band is a pop band, and Evans the Death hasn’t invented anything new. What they have done is write twelve brilliant songs and make a recording so we can listen to them at home as much as we like. And if you’ve a fondness for melody, that’s going to be a lot.