By: Jake Murray
Evvol | website | facebook | twitter | soundcloud |
I had an interesting conversation last week about a recent pocket of musical history that ramped up somewhere near the end of the last decade and lost steam not long after this one began. All the artists making up the “scene” (shudders) are still adored, but do not seem to have coincided in the same way most of their début releases did, and rather strangely, their sophomores didn’t hit the world as heavy as their débuts. This bubble of extraordinary music is female-led, mostly solo artists, occupying the more interesting side of electronic songwriting and production. Usually somewhere between Björk, Laurie Anderson and Kraftwerk, these acts are not the business-built barbie-dolls you find preyed upon by TMZ, or singing songs written by a team of writers costing $50,000.
They’re self-made artists like Robyn who challenges sexuality or the mysterious Fever Ray who all but removes it. Glasser, Austra and Zola Jesus all drew from operatic training to merge the modern with the classical to much success. Grimes created her own ethereal world of weird out of her bedroom and practically rewrote pop form, while Bat For Lashes brought a plethora of sounds and emotions together to create a quasi-spiritual landscape. La Roux, on the tea-and-biscuits side of the Atlantic made 8-bit radio waves with her chiptune synthpop début, and on the other side of the pond, School of Seven Bells created a whole other kind of electronidreampop that remains both poppy and obscure.
July 24th this year will see the release of Evvol’s début album, Eternalism on !K7 Records. It comes as no surprise listening to the record that they’ve toured Europe and Australia with Austra, and shared stages with Grimes and Peaches. The record is dark, hypnotic and seductive, much like that of their peers; it’s also as far-spanning as the alumni cited in this review’s lengthy introduction. But why spend so long rattling on about all these acts that aren’t Evvol? Why not just cut to the chase?! Firstly, because that’s boring, dear. But mostly it’s because of the simple fact that good music is grown from the past through evolution.
While it is initially apparent that there’s surface value similarities to tour-buddies Austra et al, there are moments like ‘Your Love’ which smash dark, modern glitchier elements with the dabbles of early 90’s house that Björk demonstrated 20 years ago with Debut. But that also makes sense when considering the band’s home of Berlin, and London’s inability to decide if house music is still cool, or if everything should have the underlying elements of melancholy of techno. Either way, Evvol have got that bull by the horns here. But evolution based on their own past and the past of others is a clear intention of Evvol, who have rebranded entirely from their former entity, Kool Thing. Closing track ‘Four Steps From Home’, for example, is not only radically different from the vast majority of Kool Thing’s [now buried] catalogue, but probably one of the most amazing electronic tracks to be released this year; vocal sampling in the flavour of Oneohtrix Point Never married with glistening arpeggiated synths and a rhythmic command to thrash one’s body in euphoria.
While Eternalism is at times a record of electronic pulses and body-thrasing, it is in greater measure one of depth and consideration. It’s a record less likely to be found in a dingy basement club, and more on a night drive or red-eye flight in headphones. Distance and travel remain familiar themes throughout the record, as Evvol explore instrumentation with the Norse panflutes in ‘Sola’ one moment, and the super-French soft-electronic keyboards + claps combo pioneered by Air in another [‘Vega’]. But it makes sense, since distance is in the very foundations of this Berlin-based Australian/Irish duo [yep]. It’s in these arrangement details that the moody constance of Eternalism is carried, and even polished… hell, they even manage to pull off an almost two-minute long guitar solo in ‘Starcrossed’.
As mentioned earlier, it does seem that Evvol are simultaneously reviving 90’s house music while glitching out in bass-land with the rest of today’s kids, so could it be that they’re also travelling through time?! Eternlism in this way is timeless; an instant favourite for anyone who remembers the birth of Warp and Ninjatune, but still loves discovering the many chameleon shades of electronic music through labels like Denovali and Tri Angle.
So, distance and the sense of journey lay throughout Eternalism like milestones, but it’s in the feelings of intimacy and connection that we find the true blueprint. The songs themselves are deeply personal and intimate, such as the soulmate’s promise ‘Starcrossed’ or the symbiotic ‘I See You (I Am You)’. Lyrical moments may be few and far between in the album (often traded in for well crafted instrumental or vocal mangling), but when employed they are honest, aware and intentional… when intelligible that is. Since more often than not the voice is used as a textural instrument rather than a vehicle for someone’s journal, Eternalism is a record more for those who prefer their vocals swamped in reverb instead of breathing down their ear. The compositions themselves are alluring enough in fact that the vocals are not always necessary, but also never dull.
One criticism in fact would be that many of the tracks could be longer, more progressive, with longer instrumental sections since some shorter songs on a first-listen feel more like undeveloped filler (but grow well on repeat exposure). This is early days for Evvol as a project, but it feels that the perfect way to combine the minimal songwriting approach would be to immerse even further into club roots and expand musically, using vocals/lyrics as hook drops and fall further down the rabbit hole. If Evvol is a band of evolution, then Eternalism is the document of their journey from one place to another, like Bill Bryson having a “mad one” [own up, who gave Bill the speckly eccies?]. What Eternalism holds most is it’s key to unlock a future for a band with great potential. It’s a great record standing as a testament to a refined craft, but the true lest is what lies next for Evvol…… so keep your eyes and ears right where they are.