If British bands such as Muse and Elbow have for years now been trying to craft their own OK Computer, the loftiest goal on this side of the Atlantic seems to be creating the next Soft Bulletin. From Band of Horses‘ Ben Bridwell channeling the high, throaty voice of Wayne Coyne to every U.S. band clamoring to work with engineer Dave Fridmann, the Flaming Lips’ ’99 masterpiece has pretty much ensconced itself as the apex of ambitious American music.
The Soft Bulletin‘s rejection of simple verse/chorus song structure, embrace of experimentalism, and slapdash style are all over So Gone, the debut from fellow Oklahomans Evangelicals. Mapping out the twisting turns of the two opening tracks alone could use up the rest of the word count for this review. “A Mouthful of Skeletons” is a mixed-up noise overture, dominated by a jubilant, burbling synth. It flows seamlessly into “Another Day (And Your Still Knocked Out),” which starts out like a hard-driving early Husker Du song. All of that falls away, leaving just lead singer Josh Jone’s voice. Over time, the other elements reappear. The song modulates again into Jones talking about how he’s “so gone” to the accompaniment of guitars rolling up and down. The song steadily picks back up to its original thrash speed, before fading out to the band chanting “you’re only dreaming.”
And there’s a lot more in the mix after that. A breezy, near-tropicalia informs “Driving” and “Goin’ Down.” Other non-Lips influences get sly nods. The same type of manipulated, devilish voice that DJ Shadow likes to use introduces “Here Comes Trouble,” a track that also includes the sound of someone running down a hallway right out of Pink Floyd’s “On the Run.” “My Headache,” a pretty musing on the frustrations of love, contains an ascending theremin sound that’s a direct quote from the transition between the last two songs on Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea.
These are all great bands to want to be like, yes, but after a while the influence-peddling gets to be too much. So Gone is likable, but likable in the same way as people who obviously put a lot of thought into their outfit and who work hard at what witty comments they interject at parties are. It all can seem a bit forced. Especially the instrumental “Into the Woods,” which is basically Air covering “Kid A” as remixed by Zero 7. Things close with “The Water Is Warm,” which sounds like Jeff Buckley singing a baptismal hymn.
I’ve whined before about the difficulty in reviewing music without devolving into “this band sounds like these bands.” Maybe it’s laziness on my part. But maybe not. Maybe Evangelicals, wanting to craft a killer debut, consciously sampled bits and pieces of a lot of hip sounds. The result is engaging, but I sense that these guys are talented enough that, if they try something much more organic next time, it will be even better.