A mate of mine introduced me to Evangelicals in anticipation of one of the most eclectic concert bills we’ve ever seen together. It was El Perro Del Mar, Evangelicals, and Annuals at Mercury Lounge in New York, sometime last year. One of those occasions when eclecticism does not equal spice-of-life, between the Swedish pop singer’s depressing whisper and the North Carolinans’ sloppy indie experiments the evening fell apart completely. Sandwiched between those two, Evangelicals may have been the least convincing of the lot, covering amateurism in a kitschy array of fake vegetation, Christmas lights, and other ornaments. You could sense a baseline of the components of psychedelic pop, but without proper sound engineering they completely failed to come together into a coherent whole.
I’m glad to say that the recording process is much kinder to this Norman, Oklahoma band. The positive press that accompanied the group’s debut LP So Gone last year was deserved. In accordance with their name, Evangelicals captured a sort of carefree, let’s-try-anything approach to psych-pop that was, overall, quite refreshing. Above that, the group seemed genuinely psyched to be making music, something that more seasoned happy-go-lucky bands like the Flaming Lips buried under mountains of affect.
While the group presents a much more unified face on The Evening Descends, shards of the ADD-type, scatological approach to making music are evident all across the album. The opening, title track is illustrative. Through its four or five musical sections over three minutes, it transitions from mumbled low-fi drumbeat to widescreen Sleepy Jackson-style psychedelia to an unexpectedly emotive melody. But as the album winds on, things settle down considerably. “Snowflakes” is a thing of swirling beauty, but it’s a remarkably restrained ballad in the scheme of Evangelicals compositions. And even the thrashing guitar introduction of “How Do You Sleep?” quickly gives way to a standard rock chord progression, minimally tarted up with echoing effects and synthesizer doodles (although, OK, that splat in the first verse is pretty unexpected).
The emotional landscape that the band addresses has likewise expanded. You see it in the paranoid loneliness of “The Evening Descends”, in “Party Crashin’”’s sting of an intense comedown, and in the squalid love-fallout of “Paperback Suicide”. Throughout, the persona frontman Josh Jones presents is tortured but never too self-involved to alienate the listener. It’s certainly a notable part of the band’s appeal.
The Flaming Lips are still obvious heroes of Evangelicals, perhaps even more so now than on So Gone. And, in fact, where the debut played off the dichotomy between psychedelic passages and straighter rock sections (which often failed to fully blend), The Evening Descends veers decidedly to the former. The sense that the band doesn’t know what it’s doing was one of its early charms, but also one of the frustrations. On their sophomore album, Evangelicals give us a glimpse of a more mature, real band. In the process, if they lose something of their spontaneity, it’s nothing to be too worried about. It’s clear the band is still truly excited about the new possibilities their increasing skill and studio familiarity affords them — luckily for us, the results aren’t self-indulgent but enable a greater, more immediate expression of the group’s ideas.