An Evening With challenges, confounds with hook-heavy outing

Arriving almost eight years after their last release, Lovers and Losers, the new self-titled record by An Evening With is a satisfying and confounding listen. A warmer, fuller sound with less obvious country leanings make up most of this album’s tracklist, which also includes some giant left turns with surprising payoffs.

Though singer/guitarist Jeremy Alexander’s vocal range is limited, his delivery of smart lyrics fits these songs and their sonically pleasing arrangements. Tom Rogers’ drumming is tastefully busy, always doing something so that even the slower-paced tracks have a drive to them. Jesse and Aaron Huatala fill out the rest with appropriate keyboard tones (“Softly”), melodic guitar lines (“Torn Up Clouds”) and deliciously complimentary bass parts (“The Hits”). The record may have been in the works for four years but there are plenty of moments that make all this time worth it, the precision in both the playing and composition successfully drawing out the desired emotional responses.

The record opens with “Torn Up Clouds,” possibly the strongest and most immediate track, filled with chiming guitars scoring dreamy verses, a strong chorus and a smart end section that doesn’t return to either. The song is so good, in fact, that it almost overshadows how interesting the surf-twang of “Fighting Air” is. The same issue occurs later in the record with the creeping waltz of “Widow.” It’s not that these songs are bad, it’s just that their placement does them no favors. Taken on their own, each have their own charms but when the freaky, Liars-esque “God” is so successful in bringing you into this bizarre other world, it’s almost impossible for “Widow,” and the record, not to lose a little momentum.

“God” begins with alternating tom hits and the repeated lines, “God was in this movie / God was all around me,” before opening up with a dirty, sharp guitar that mirrors the sung melody. This is followed by something that sounds like a distorted orchestra before abruptly cutting and going full bonkers with high bass notes being strummed under the previously introduced melody, making it sound completely different. These end and we are left with horn sounds that have been manipulated to sound like animal groans, or vice versa, or a mix of the two. Doesn’t matter, it’s awesome.

Centerpiece “Love Takers” ties together shuffling verses, a soaring chorus and a half-time post-chorus section that is debatably the biggest hook of the album, spreads it across about seven minutes and makes it work. “The Hits” takes an already strong song and blasts into a stunning instrumental bridge section with a gorgeous solo and accompanying bell tones. The piano-driven “Westbound” is majestic and hazy, riding what can only be described as satisfying tension before resolving with an outro reminiscent of Aimee Mann’s “Deathly.”

Based on these reference points, you’d expect An Evening With to be all over the place, but despite a few random detours the record is quite cohesive. These guys are smart enough, and independent-minded enough in creating their own music, to frame these (possibly unintentional) influences to fit what they’re doing and not the other way around. There’s also a specific energy that is consistent throughout the album even when things do get a little weird.

Which is what makes the inclusion of “Birthday Party” all the more bizarre. Four tracks into the album, a track begins that is made up solely of repeated, slightly voice-modulated exclamations and crashing sounds followed by what can only be sweeping up broken glass. Maybe it’s an attempt to include a sense of humor among these fairly serious-sounding tracks, maybe it’s an inside joke that really makes these guys giggle, but it is so out of character from the surrounding recorded output. There is another track here, “Cricket Opera,” that also functions as an interlude or palate cleanser and is far more effective, and consistent, given the overall vibe. I still don’t quite “get it,” but it's harmless and in keeping with the cloudy sounds of the entire album. “Birthday Party” sounds like a joke, something that would normally be included, if at all, as a hidden track, buried at the end, not something given its own track in the first third of the record.

But there is too much intelligence and skill on display here to let it be tarnished by one minute of goofing. The quartet will be joined by a number of guests on Saturday in order to effectively recreate the content here and it will be fun to see how these translate considering the layered, studio nature of most of these songs. It has also been very successful for me as a solitary listener, I’m now interested to see how it works in a club full of people.

An Evening With performs at Empire on Saturday, April 30 with Purse and Record High. 9:30pm, $6, 21+.

Last modified onTuesday, 26 April 2016 19:12