Vanilla is both the most complex and most impressive work the band has yet done.
On last year's Expect Delays, Evans the Death took their dark outlook and ran it through melodic, almost upbeat blends of older pop and alt-rock. The highly entertaining record had its unsettling moments with a little bit of grating that never quite allowed for a comfortable rest. Back now with Vanilla, the band pushes further in the direction it was already heading, pulling in more influences while scraping away some of the pop that had been the skeleton for its work, making Vanilla both the most complex and most impressive work the band has yet done.
Album opener “Haunted Wheelchair” sets the tone. Everything's gone dark, but urgency builds like approaching sirens. Katherine Whitaker bursts through with full, distorted vocals, trying to make sense of danger and violence (she's “terrified”), but still reinforcing the idea that “I'm exactly where I want to be, be, be.” It's an odd statement in the middle of an ominous number and plays a bit like strength and a bit like psychosis.
The album itself seems to come unhinged at times, and yet the band masterfully directs all of its impulses. At times we get a post-punk groove, at other times the band ventures into disco. They use touches of no-wave, sandpapered Britpop, and even some funk. While they won't be confused for the Famous Flames, the quintet could probably fit in with a horn section, maybe the way late-era Jam did. The group doesn't sound retro, though. “Hey! Buddy” sounds enough like Paramore (but not too much) to show that band hasn't unmoored itself from this era.
Throughout all these inflections, Evans the Death build a sense of chaos. There's nothing easy in this world. At the same time, they've rigorously crafted these songs. “Welcome to Usk” departs from a usual structure—the piece shifts moods and time signatures several times without losing its cohesion.
The album closes with “European Bison”, a fitting choice in its brutal, thumping sound. The final minute sounds like they're coming to get you, possibly with needles. It's a fitting close to the album. For all Vanilla's technique and artistry, Evans the Death is still a band ready to throw punches, and this number, with its broken “I'm gonna cry” collapses the preceding numbers into a single fist and leaves it at that.
This third album from Evans the Death could be the pinnacle of the band's current trajectory, but their explorations are as exciting to follow as the songs are to hear. With that it mind, guessing the band's next move would be a challenge, but it'll be an interesting one to watch.