Tag Archives: music from Sacramento (California – USA)

REVIEW – Evolutia: ‘Objects Aside’ and ‘Secret’s Safe’ singles, 2012 (“a more interesting proposition”)

16 Jul

Evolutia: 'Objects Aside'

Evolutia: ‘Objects Aside’

Beyond their knack for epic, florid rock melodramas, Muse-style (as heard on their 2010 EP ‘Fear’s Fall‘), there’s more to Evolutia than attempting to hone a journey into the heart of arena-rock. On the surface, Andrew Barnhart and Stephen Cameron are clean-cut multi-instrumental prog boys, verging on AOR. Underneath… not so much. Their love of dynamics, electronic fuzz and dubstep; their occasional digressions into piano-and-laptop sketchpaddery; the suspicion that some of their more outré and full-blooded vocal moments are more cabaret than rock club… all of these things make Evolutia a more interesting proposition.

In the run-up to a long-delayed debut album, they’ve popped out – within a single week – two syncopated new songs owing more to Ben Folds or to prime-period Stevie Wonder than to the shriller rock noises of Muse, Mew or Queen. Staunch prog fans may smell a rat – personally, I smell flowering. It sounds as if Evolutia have learned to please themselves, rather than just expectation; and in the process have upped their game a few notches. Hooray to that.

Out of the two, it’s Objects Aside – with its fancy footwork and vein of darkness – that bears the resemblance to Ben Folds. Stephen jags and dominates with a syncopated, flouncing curl of piano lick. Andrew tack-hammers it with a bass guitar line that’s part Rush, part snap-funk. Both of them fence around the rhythm; occasionally, they haul in guest drummer Zach Branff, gang up on the rhythm altogether, pin it against the ropes and pummel it with Uzi beats. Kneading furiously on a bass synth,Andrew half-sighs, half-growls the lyrics. “We take what we get, climb to the top of it / Throwing objects aside to the left and the right / ‘Til we see the light.”

I’m not sure whether all of this is about greed or about looking for something better than toys’n’favours. It fits both. There’s a tangle of frustrated persuasion working its way through the song, too (“It’s useless, I won’t give up – you’ll come around.”) Later on, Andrew and Stephen share the singing on an aspirational bridge, assuring us that “this darkness will never come, you’ll see that we’ll rest in peace. / Your heart’s buried in secrets that you’ll uncover eventually.” Briefly, the lighters come out. Mostly, though, this is about dancing aggressively, up on your toes, on unfriendly ground.

Evolutia: 'Secret's Safe'

Evolutia: ‘Secret’s Safe’

I made the mistake of listening to Secret’s Safe on headphones in the dark. Within the first forty seconds I jumped up, thinking that I was being burgled. This song has the best creaky-door sample since Thriller – unexpected, sliding mockingly through your head, ending in a sly lock-snick. It sits edgily against what’s otherwise a bouncy, funky shuffle, a latter-day Higher Ground. It renders it suspicious, as if someone was rifling your mind while you danced.

It’s certainly a ridiculously danceable song. Andrew’s laddering virtuosic bass-guitar riff skips and spirals around a pulsing tower of synth bass, while Stephen’s crunched-up electric piano stabs and bounces underneath. It’s also Stephen singing, in his clarion tenor, about trust and exchange. “You got something that you’re hiding; you’ve gotta make me believe. / Showed you mine now show me yours – / stolen whispers are the key.”

Actually, trust doesn’t come into it. This is all about coercion and manipulation, and it grows ever more slightly mocking as it swings onward. Stephen shifts in and out of character, between wheedler and withholder – “Promise not to tell / There’s nothing like a little pressure / You know I’ve kept it well / Lips are sealed forever.” While sometimes the song delves into the pressures of keeping things unspoken (“trying to get back the beats your heart skipped”) the payoff is power. “Your secret’s safe with me,” Stephen sings, before adding, in an aside “(She’s got nowhere to go.)” Stealth breaking-and-entering.

Evolutia: ‘Objects Aside’ & ‘Secrets Safe’
Bandcamp
Download-only singles
Released: 5th & 9th April 2012 (respectively)

Buy them from:
BandcampObjects Aside and Secret’s Safe. Both songs will be available on Evolutia’s debut album ‘Arm Yourself’.

Evolutia online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube

REVIEW – Evolutia: ‘Fear’s Fall’ EP, 2010 (“they certainly don’t stint on the dramatics”)

3 Jul
Evolutia: 'Fear's Fall'

Evolutia: ‘Fear’s Fall’

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’
Bandcamp
Download-only EP
Released: 11th January 2010

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Evolutia online:
Homepage Facebook Twitter Bandcamp YouTube

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