They have a history with at least one Californian prog-rock band in it; yet Evolutia’s Stephen Cameron and Andrew Barnhart work better with a strong pop injection. Popping up a couple of years ago with the ‘After All These Years’ EP, Evolutia’s brisk multi-instrumental dazzle (along with Stephen and Andrew’s tag-team singing) quickly impressed. Now they’re revealing – in flashes – greater breadth and songwriting solidity beneath that glossy surface.
Of course, you do have to deal with the Muse factor first. Initially, those occasional neo-classical flourishes, the impassioned diva vocals and Stephen’s dual role on piano and guitar feel pretty familiar. Evolutia’s music is very much in Muse’s terrain of borderline-hysterical prog-pop. In fact, they’re hovering in almost the precise same spot that Matt Bellamy and co. did about a decade previously.
Yet while Muse increasingly inflate themselves into a Paganini stunt show of inhuman proportions (and arguably always dealt more in effect than humanity), Evolutia maintain heart and a human scale. Songs like My Element are clearly pomp-rock angst epics – Stephen and Andrew bawling “I fall apart without you” as instruments somersault around them – but they’re recognisably about people, rather than being exercises in style. Every explosive caper of Stephen’s piano, every upfront sprun-ng-g-g of Andrew’s supple prog-funk bass playing (and on this occasion, Mitch Holmes’ crisp and flexing drumwork) is there to underpin a human experience; whether this is ageing (“with faces that weathered / we stood up tall ’til the end”), the corrosions of ignorance, or simple fear.
That said, they certainly don’t stint on the dramatics – and their talent for sounding like a four- or five-piece band rather than an augmented duo certainly helps. With a tight and vicious vocal from Andrew, Half Awake provides the kind of semi-operatic sturm-und-drang rarely offered since the days of ‘Queen II’. Over jagged, emotional Beethoven piano, Andrew sneers out flashes of punk life (“brought up in a home of no-can-do, / what’s to learn in a prison but a vice or two?”) with a mixture of disgruntled rage and sympathy as he slips in and out of character. He weaves a history of resentment and slippage between one disaster and another, one violent situation and another; down and down the spiral, while a growling bass synth mutters like a cornered dog.
With Stephen temporarily abandoning his piano for some trashy but laser-guided guitar playing, We Used to Sleep starts life as a glam-punk anthem. It’s soon underlaid by prog convulsions – spasms of bass; distorted roars of texture; quick flashes of djent-styled metal riffage, like violently shunting trains. These toss the bucketing, arena-sized tune around on their knotty shoulders while Stephen sings of lost innocence, abandonment and faith: “If you find yourself lying in wait, or tasting their bait / just don’t go losing your hope yet.” This is lighter-waving rock heroism for sure – and cut by the yard – but it’s played with an invigorating power. For a few moments, flushed with Evolutia’s determined romance, you believe.
Fear’s Falls’ title track, meanwhile, is a real pocket epic. Driven by flowing expressive piano dancing over sparring drums and saw-edged walls of bass, it crams far more into its relative sparse lyric and its five-and-a-half minute running time than you’d expect, while Stephen delivers his most heartfelt and hopeful vocal of the whole EP. As the band travel, they reveal tightly-packed musical pockets en route: little cells transforming the spaces inside the tune from within, mirroring the night journey from fear to reassurance. “We shed this weight like it was our skin – / the ones we love are lost again, / and hope is becoming my closest friend… / Truth is changing what we want. / Fear melts away when we see / there’s nothing in the dark save you, save me.”
As Fear’s Fall winds down, there’s a cute little instrumental diversion into pseudo-reggae. Perhaps it’s there to show that after all of the emoting and instrumental flagrancy, Evolutia have a sense of humour. It’s unnecessary. They’ve got something better: in spite of all of their flashy arena-rock drama, they retain heart throughout. Maybe once they get past the more blatant Muse-ry, more people will notice this.
Evolutia: ‘Fear’s Fall’
Released: 11th January 2010
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