Let me be the next snob -- certainly neither the first nor the last -- to mention The Flaming Lips when writing about Evangelicals. And let this be the last time I mention the Lips on this page. As psych poppers from Oklahoma, Evangelicals are doomed to suffer the heady comparison. But let that be a good thing. Really, "The Evening Descends" doesn't sound like a record the former would release, but their fans will enjoy it, with some exceptions among the many who've canonized Wayne and the boys and will be too critical to accept anything that falls near that realm. Anyway, the comparison is unfair, as it pigeonholes Evangelicals. The band recalls a host of styles -- prog, goth, post-punk, shoegaze, acid rock, Elephant 6, etc. -- even if it remains psych-pop at heart and soul. Oh yeah, there's soul in the mix, too.
The opening title track is a mess of multiple musical movements, a lullaby predicting a nightmare and setting the nocturnal theme. While mostly quiet and subdued, it gives way to swells of multi-instrumental, hyper-prog clamor, and early on singer-guitarist Josh Jones evokes Brian May's spacey tone, if Queen had scored "Blade Runner" rather than "Flash Gordon." It serves as an overture of all the noisy elements implemented in crafting these pop songs rather than a song itself. The album really takes flight with the rollicking, up-tempo psych-pop of the second track, "Midnight Vignette," which addresses mental instability, which, along with substance abuse and boredom, is a theme strung throughout the album.
The first taste Evangelicals offered of the album was the "Skeleton Man" mp3, and the song is an appropriate single, harnessing the band's assorted noise into a believable pop-rock anthem. It opens on a steady beat and subtle strumming and picking before a noise-pop backdrop falls in step, then keeps building. Though the album is a dusk-till-dawn affair thematically, it includes sunny -- if still haunted -- music, and much of that is found in the guitars and noise on this cut. Cue the squealing prog guitar as the sound fills out and soars away toward the wall of noise pop that the song rides out on, building to the repeated "When someone loves you very much you're f'd" coda. "Stoned Again" moves along quieter but faster, rolling drums taking the wheel and Floyd guitars filling out the sound. Again, Evangelicals sound like they're on a sunny summer afternoon drive yet still trapped in a nightmare.
With "Party Crashin'", the band threatens to burst into techno, but simple strumming and picking that recalls Big Star's "Try Again" hold the song to classic pop. Then it explodes into a rock song, and as the acoustic picking rises, it stays subdued, and Cure-esque synths created the wall of noise on the track. But that Big Star pickin' and strummin' bring it back again, before another synth roller coaster. It's a terrific journey, despite the cheesy staged dialogue between crash victim Jones and an ER doctor that appears in the background in the middle of the song. It exits on shoegazey guitar layers and prog-rock riffing. Then "Snowflakes" is another nightmare-inducing lullaby, an ominous winter ballad that reminds me of the contrast of the beauty of snowfall and the nightmare commutes it can create, particularly with the line, "Snowflakes keep tumbling and I can't help wondering, will things just keep getting buried?"
Abruptly, "How Do You Sleep?", one of the standout tracks, opens with a burst of squealing guitars, which soon give way to more shoegaze layers. Really, it's a traditional rock song embellished by synth and special effects. "Well, someone once told me the trick to a nightmare is understanding you're in a dream," the song opens, but it seems to go forth to ask, What if the nightmare is real? What if what you dream your nightmare because it's real, it's your life? And Jones unhinged vocals are at their best on this song. The monsters of the id are exposed further on "Bellawood," another brush with insanity in which the villain of this horror movie soundtrack is revealed to be from within. Then the Of Montreality of "Paperback Suicide" returns to the sunnier pop sounds though it has some of the bleakest lyrics, as an author offs himself. Only the sad music surrounding the "straight into the ground" chant the song closes on evokes the real mood of the words. It segues into "Here in the Deadlights" with what sounds like a sample from the Brady Bunch's Hawaiian vacation trilogy -- the theme for the cursed tiki.
The album closes with "Bloodstreams," finally bringing God and Jesus into the picture, to appease the actual evangelicals out there, I guess. Again, it's the sunnier side of Evangelicals' sound, with a familiar '80s-ness to it. And though it begins with "Woke up screaming," it serves as the most positive song on the album, as they ultimately wake up laughing with Him running through their veins.
While Evangelicals' debut record offered great moments of psych-pop here and more straightforward rock there, this album is less focused on songs than on the album in its entirety. The band has channeled its muse for the duration. And notice I only wrote "Lips" twice.