A strong young band takes its talent in an undesirable direction on its sophomore album — is there anything more disappointing?
In an effort to produce a more polished follow-up to 2006’s “So Gone,” Evangelicals have done just that. “The Evening Descends” lacks the spastic playfulness of the band’s debut and ultimately blends in with any of a hundred slightly psyched-up indie-pop records.
The change is understandable. “So Gone” got only minor recognition in 2006, and the band was bumped out of its headlining spot on a tour with Annuals. This time around, backed by indie heavyweight marketing group Terrorbird Media, Evangelicals stand to get the attention they deserve.
And yet, the band has jettisoned much of what made it unique. The band’s press materials declare that they’ve “[left] behind much of their ADD-addled approach” — harsh words for one’s own debut album. Evangelicals fancy themselves storytellers on “The Evening Descends,” but the conversation snippets and plot-induced sirens of “Party Crashin’,” for example, have none of the emotional nuance of the one-sided conversation in “Hello Jenn, I’m a Mess.”
Which is not to say that “The Evening Descends” is a complete failure. Josh Jones remains as skilled a songwriter as ever, despite his ill-fated faux-cinematic approach. The record takes a few listens before it coheres, but Jones has definite indie-pop chops. His impeccable ear for melody and predilection for toe-tapping rhythms make “The Evening Descends” a satisfying listen.
The trouble is, without the hyperactivity of the first record, the space-rock touchstones that set Evangelicals apart from their peers often seem inessential instead of integral. Even the catchy and driving single “Skeleton Man” starts off like a less insistent Arcade Fire and ends like a disorganized Broken Social Scene. No song fails, but it’s hard to get too excited about the nth pretty-good similar-sounding indie-pop record.
Recently Jones expressed amusement that a Halloween song (“Halloween Song”) he wrote as a “goof” became so popular among fans. It underscored his misconceptions about his band’s strengths: It may have been only a novelty song to him, but its tossed-off nature spoke to the importance of play in the band’s music.
One can’t begrudge such a talented band newfound attention, despite the sometime indistinguishability of its new songs. Perhaps in translating these songs to a live show, the band will regain the sense of urgency that made “So Gone” special.