Evoletah – Run With The Hunted – Album Review
Time is such a twisted & relative thing ain’t it? To me, it feels like it was just yesterday that I started listening to Australia-based band Evoletah…and as it turns out, that it was actually nearly seven years ago at this point when I first heard & reviewed their album We Ache For The Moon in October 2013. To be entirely fair, there was movement in the middle of that time as well…we also reviewed a side-project from members of the band on the album All The Frozen Horses by The Quiet Room – so don’t get me wrong, it’s not like the music has ever stopped being made, and it’s certainly not stopped being played either. Still…sometimes it’s surprising to look up from my screen and realize how much time passes; and truly, it’s moments like this where you appreciate just how much time it can take to make the album you really wanna make. With the multi-faceted & artistically-diverse sound of Evoletah, it’s impossible to say just how many ideas & songs would be tested out & tried in between this album and the last, but they’ve officially settled on a tight set of eight to create their brand-new record, Run With The Hunted.
And here you have it. No one can claim 2020 is ALL bad anymore; this album came out four days ago.
Step on into the surreal jazz-like atmosphere that surrounds you as “Beguiled” begins with spectacularly well-designed sound and highly enticing, poetic vocals. The way this song creeps & crawls along with such sleek & sly movement really is an experience and a defining moment for this record right off the bat, setting the standard for the artistically-inclined tunes to follow. If you’re a fan of the band already, you know the last thing you should be expecting is Evoletah to be anything on the square-side of normal – this band has always been about pushing the limits of the art & craft as far as their exceptional talent will take them. Throughout the highly impressive drift through the smoky wisps of sound and brilliant piano leading the way on “Beguiled,” I couldn’t help but think about just how great it is to have this band back in the mix in 2020…I would never expect everyone out there to ‘get’ Evoletah, I just wish everyone WOULD is all…that’s the world I wanna be livin’ in, you feel me? Seriously interesting to listen to…check out moments like right around the one-minute mark where the vocals from Matt Cahill take an incredibly stylistic turn into the most subtle hook you’ll hear this year, but highly effective all the same. The combination between the waterfall notes from piano player Ben Johns and the essential low-end rhythm supplied by Michael Shanahan make for a brilliant pairing…you factor in key elements like the strings & trumpets that show up, and believe me, you’ve got just about everything you could ask for & then some on this first song alone. “Beguiled” doesn’t just prove that Evoletah is back in the finest of forms, it’s a true highlight on this record for its endless amount of sensory sound & audible textures.
The title-track grabs your attention immediately through the low-end rhythm & groove on the bass and the stunning brilliance of the saxophone and drums alongside it. Vocally, I think it’s cutting-edge when it comes right down to it…I felt like Evoletah was ahead of their time on their last record We Ache For The Moon and I still feel the same way now…the uniqueness in this band and their music is more than tangible, it’s absolutely one of its main assets. “Run With The Hunted” is where you hear Evoletah not so much makes a decisive attempt at a more commercial sound, but organically comes out with one that would easily appeal to a massively wide-range of fans that appreciate a genuinely artistic twist in the tunes they listen to…think somewhere in between Robbie Robertson and Alt-J…this would fit in there. Musicianship you can’t help but respect, songwriting that stands-out continually…”Run With The Hunted” shines a bright light on the array of styles that influence Evoletah without ever being too much of any one thing at all. Even in the write-up I received along with this record, you’ll find comparisons as widespread as Bon Iver and Sade…and while that might seem like the distance between those two poles is a million miles of separation, I bet when you listen to this title-track that it completely makes sense to ya. Through the lively bass-lines supplied by Michael, “Run With The Hunted” keeps a low rumbling, tribal-inspired energy running through the veins of this tune, and it sounds freakin’ magnificent! I love that Evoletah never shies away from the instrumentation or letting it take a deserved moment in the spotlight…you’ll hear those fantastic trumpets show up again as “Run With The Hunted” plays on. For as chilled-out as it appears on the surface, the gripping intensity that exists in this tune is a real sonic force to be reckoned with…Evoletah will grab onto your attention firmly & never give you a reason to let it go.
What I really love in a great record are tough choices at the beginning…part of that being on the band’s end to assemble and structure a flow that’s enticing to start with, but the other part is on the listening end afterwards, where that ‘tough choice’ really means it’s hard to pick a favorite. I know my threshold for uniqueness in music is higher than most for sure, but call me crazy if you like – what Evoletah are creating is staggeringly well-crafted and wildly different from just about every other band you can think of. Hearing them come out so strongly out of the gate with “Beguiled” and slide straight into their title track with such style afterwards made for an exceptional opening to Run With The Hunted – and I’d easily say that this third track “Look Before You Leap” is right up there with the quality of the first two. Adorned with a wonderfully organic sound, this track unfolds gorgeously, revealing female-driven vocals to start a duet for the first time on this album on one of its most expressive & emotionally powerful tunes. This sounds right in the moment to me…I mean that in the best of ways…not exactly improvisational, but very free, know what I’m saying? It’s like each player in this band is afforded the genuine respect from each other to find that spot where they really belong in these songs; sometimes that sounds like a logical fit, and at others, they’ll straight-up wow you with their ingenuity & courage. Listen to the background…I mean, the lead is obviously stunning, but notice how key elements like the trumpets & strings play such crucial roles, or how playful piano notes from Ben give this song an added layer of sweetness. Like a great many jazz-infused tunes out there, there’s a mix of looseness & tightness that creates a balance really well suited to Evoletah’s style, and with the guest vocals sparkling with as much beautiful tone & technique as you’ll hear, it’d be hard to say they don’t have this cut completely locked-down. As far as duets go, I think this is an absolutely spellbinding combination of talent…and I think you’ll hear that each of their performances inspires the other to their own highlights.
“Boxing Shadows” is a beautiful gem. The album’s shortest tune at less than 2:30 in length, but definitely a cut where they’ll make the maximum impact on listeners out there for sure – there’s so much art & heart in this tune that’s it’s by far one of the most accessible cuts on the record, while still retaining that essential uniqueness that separates Evoletah from the rest. They don’t really leave you with a lot to argue against on this song, or on this record for that matter; but there’s no doubt that keeping it short & sweet works highly in their favor here. Ben’s straight magic on the piano keys, giving “Boxing Shadows” a full set of musical hooks that could easily rival any you’d find in the vocals – and once again, you’ll find that bass from Michael movin’ & groovin’ in behind Matt poetically croonin’ up front on the mic. I’d pretty much be shocked to find out this wasn’t a universally loved favorite by listeners of this record…”Boxing Shadows” has a lot of sweetness you couldn’t possibly miss and a brilliantly inviting sound that beckons you to stay & listen. I’m all about it…from its gentle opening to its rhythmically smooth verses, to the remarkable attention to detail put into the music at every opportunity – Evoletah has left no stone unturned in making “Boxing Shadows” a memorable moment.
“Haunted” flexes their artistic gear and jazzy tendencies in a solid mix of bold & beautiful sounds that reveal how innovative & creative this band can be. I’ll say this…it’s probably the most challenging cut on the record that’ll seek to separate the casual fans from their most devoted – but there’s no doubt it’s still a cut with tons of merit and highly worth all of your time in listening. It’s got a tough spot in the lineup…that’s a factor that might work against “Haunted” for those first couple spins; its weighty depths plunge right into textured low-end rhythms that slide around in the murk of a jazz-like shroud, and compared to the bright & beautiful spark in “Boxing Shadows” right beforehand, it becomes tougher to say whether or not people will be as ready to stick with “Haunted” following it. That being said, I think it’s a pivotal song in the record that allows them to sort of reset for side-B and prep the stage for the second set of four tunes. Like, I’d assume “A Still Heart” would probably have the same issues if it was in the spot “Haunted” is in…but with the set-up “Haunted” provides it in the structure and flow of Run With The Hunted, “A Still Heart” becomes much more readily accepted as a result. Like a great concert, you need that opening support to set the stage for success…”Haunted” felt a little abandoned in that respect, and left to fend for itself in order to gain your attention. In the end, I’m confident it will; like I was saying earlier essentially, “Haunted” is every bit as solid as any other song you’ll find on this record when it comes right down to it; it just make take a couple more spins to convince you of that is all. For others out there, the progressive-meets-jazz thread and adventure-like sound you’ll find on “Haunted” will have instant appeal I’m sure…you’ll get no argument from me, we all like what we like, don’t we?
The shortest tracks on this album really land powerfully. “A Still Heart” is a wonderfully poetic duet that has stunning imagery laced throughout the lyrics and impeccable vocals that bring every word to life. The theme of horses, which have come up in the past for this crew, makes itself known in this cut as well, tying in some of their past to their present. Left alone with stunning piano melody from Ben, the vocals trade leads and share powerful emotions through their own individual parts, then combine for a mesmerizing finale that’s worth the full price of admission. Personally, I really like Matt’s performance here at the beginning as “A Still Heart” begins and he opens the song…thought I’m sure there are people out there that might be willing to take that opinion on and feel like he’s overemphasizing at times as well. To comment on that briefly…I mean…Matt’s expressive nature is a signature part of the Evoletah sound; if it sounded fake or it sounded forced, I’d hate it, and I’d have no problem telling you if that were the case, but it’s so far removed from that scenario. Cahill really throws himself into these performances without compromise, preserving a real integrity, grace, and demeanor that seems unshakably confident, even as fragile as his vocals can appear at times. He believes in the material being made in Evoletah…I truly think they all do, and as a result of that unified core, it becomes something that we as listeners can quantify in their music and authentically hear. Also, whatever is causing that whirring sound at the beginning & end of “A Still Heart” is a freakin’ genius addition to this song that’s inexplicably addictive…so bonus points for that. It sounds like an old film projector on high speed…but I really don’t know for sure – what I can tell ya is, it’s another one of those odd additions into Evoletah’s music that you wouldn’t expect…and maybe you might not even notice or hear it at first…but the more you dive into these songs, even the shortest cuts like “A Still Heart,” you realize just how much is put in.
Facts are facts…no ‘single’ by Evoletah is ever going to sound like what else is out there, so it’s kinda open season as to what they might put out there to entice the people in to listen. I’d be taking long looks at their title-track, “Boxing Shadows” and “For You” for those candidates – maybe even the final cut “Hell Or High Water” too; I think each of these tunes present a different aspect of what Evoletah is capable of and speak strongly on their behalf. “For You” is bloody exceptional in every way…just the right amount of like…menace & mayhem in the melody – like, it’s completely arguably a total love song, but the mood suggests a nearly Fatal Attraction like vibe, know what I mean? Just because it kinda scares me just as much as it excites me ain’t gonna stop me from proclaiming this cut as one of my favorites from Run With The Hunted, because “For You” most certainly is. Stocked with another wildly charismatic performance from Cahill and loaded with impressive melody & effects haunting the atmosphere…sprinkle in the interpretative lyrics laced with provocative imagery & emotions all designed to stir your thoughts and make you FEEL something…anything…”For You” is like an open-vein bleeding out an unforgettable moment. Bold piano notes from Ben keep that eerie melody intact while added elements scattered throughout the song will step out of your speakers to shock & awe you at the same time. Cahill weaves his sly & slippery vocals hazily overtop, retaining that poetic aspect of Evoletah’s music perfectly, and pushing it to the maximum through internalized thoughts you’ll be able to relate to. The final verdict on this track is that it’s scary good and cunningly well crafted, right down to the absolutely brilliant inclusion of a subtle whistling towards the end, which considering all the awesomeness this track has to offer, still manages to stand out as one of the real highlight moments on “For You.” Bonus points for the killer use of the backing vocals in this cut as well, they’re spectacular.
“Hell Or High Water” reminds me a lot of The National…and that’s always the right company to be keeping in my opinion…I think that’s one of the best bands out there in the scene today. Many of these tunes could be said to have a similarly ambitious design in their craft and highly poetic lyrics that would make the two bands comparable…and if that ain’t the best compliment I can give to Run With The Hunted and what Evoletah has achieved here, I don’t know what else could be. I’d put this record in there with the Sleep Well Beast era of The National…maybe even some of the tunes from the more current album I Am Easy To Find…either way, it’s a fairly current & relevant sound that Evoletah’s working with if that’s the comparison to be made. Love the tone in the drums of this song and the string combination that starts it out…you glide right into the beginning of “Hell Or High Water” and can’t help but to be impressed by the shimmering & majestic sound it carries. The sincerity runs deep here, right off the drop Cahill adds that extra layer of sweetness through his words, and his insightful way of looking at the world always gives your brain a lil’ extra to think about as you piece together the lyrical puzzles he creates. For the most part, “Hell Or High Water” is fairly straight-ahead in its emotion and messages in a way that’s more direct and to the point than you usually find Evoletah writing within, but sometimes when you wanna get something specific across, there’s no better way to go about it than just the raw, unfiltered thoughts & emotions telling the truth as it really is, whatever the case may be. Evoletah ends this record with a huge highlight for the instrumentation & musicianship you’ll find on this album…from about the fourth minute forward, they put on an incredibly unified display of radiant & exploratory sound, finished with the immaculate cherry on top provided by a solo piece from Ben on the piano at the very end. Conclusive? You BET. An amazing final song to end what’s been a massively impressive record? DOUBLE CHECK. Run With The Hunted doesn’t just have you appreciating the fact that Evoletah is back in 2020 after nearly seven years between records…it makes you sure as hell hope it won’t take another seven to get to the next one.
Though if the ideas and quality come out as strong as they do on this album, I’m sure we’d all agree it’d be worth the waiting once again. Fingers crossed.
Find out more about Evoletah at their official website at: http://www.evoletah.com
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