When roots rock and psychedelia meet, the results can be pretty spectacular, and if ours turns into a generation of Graham Parsons rip-offs, so be it. But music only progresses when bands take such nascent and oftentimes theoretical genre-bending to its logical, and illogical, endpoints. Evangelicals attempted this in So Gone, their phenomenal and much blogged-about debut in 2006. They continue it on The Evening Descends, which isn’t the best album Band of Horses never made so much as the album that Band of Horses will never be able to make.
Evening takes one sonic risk after another, clouding the brilliant, downbeat psych-country songwriting on “Skeleton Man” with chaotic, disorienting background noise. But the distortion pays off, and Evangelicals are able to parlay a carefully measured dose of experimental weirdness into literally one asymmetrical lo-fi masterpiece after another. It’s coherent even as it threatens to get lost in its influences, and Evangelicals can go from Flaming Lips-style whimsy on “Snowflakes” to a symphonic freakout on “How Do You Get to Sleep?” without missing a beat.
It helps that lead singer Josh Jones puts on such a remarkable vocal performance. One moment he’s plodding the Oberstian depths, the next he’s launching into his operatic high range and sounding less like a shrill, whiney emo kid than a tormented, Midwestern Bono. But it’s torment of a particular sort, driven home with alienating guitar fuzz and psych-pop asymmetry: “Party Crashin’” begins as synth-heavy post-punk, and disintegrates perfectly into a noisy, discordant mess. Meanwhile, “Bellawood” assaults listeners with blast of words reminiscent of the Fiery Furnaces, heaped atop a horror movie organ line and some virtuoso bongo playing. “Strange things keep happening” Jones bellows on the album highlight—Evening sure does an excellent job of convincing us, although its strangest experimental dalliances are just subtle enough to let the songs speak for themselves. And synthetic bells and whistles aside, there isn’t a single song that wouldn’t at least sound good if it were totally stripped down. But dressed up, they’re art-rock gold, offering one strange and wonderful musical moment after another.