The self-titled release by Evening Machine has to be one of the most unique recordings I have heard coming out of South Africa this year. It is difficult to nail down the sound of the EP concisely but I will give it a try. The release is very progressive, particularly in regards to the styles from which it draws influence; however, it is still quite ambient and laid-back at the same time. That is not to say it never goes full-on on but the heavier parts are metered and the parts leading up to them develop seamlessly into the heavier elements. At its heaviest, this music could be called progressive rock, at its lightest lounge. There are also strong elements of afro-jazz and pop heard on this record alongside some funk and electronica vibes.
Synths are a prominent element of this EP that are featured alongside heavily produced guitars, drums, and vocals, all of which are drenched in effects. Although I find the entire experience to be unique, one of the standout elements has to be the vocal performance by the frontman Lebo. His style of vocals is not often heard in this genre of music which already gives the recording a unique edge and his performance on the record is sublime. Throughout the EP multiple languages are used (Sesotho, English, and the musical equivalent of speaking in tongues) and Lebo’s vocals range from traditional chant to belted rock ‘n roll to smooth jazz style singing to falsetto and everything in between. It is a masterclass in vocal variety. But before I get too carried away, let me introduce the rest of the band: Emile plays drums, Neill is on keyboard and synths, and Cois is on guitar (these are the titles found on their Facebook page. Mysterious.). The bass was recorded with a bass guitar in studio, however, it is played on synths live.
To give more insight into the instrumentals on the album it must be said that Emile’s drum performance is incredible. His playing is extremely technical yet somehow so contained. The drums might be the busiest part of the mix and they hold most of the energy, yet they never feel like they are overpowering the rest of the music. On the EP the guitar and synths are all about layering. Neil and Cois have done a fantastic job of producing the musical equivalent of ecstasy and the resultant sounds are intoxicating. The guitars and synth serve as the perfect sonic cement that fills out the atmosphere of this release. Their performances are slightly more restrained, however. Though they are no less important and the layerings of melodic delays, reverbs, and filters are the majority of the aural textures on the record. All of these elements working together blend into a musical cocktail that is undeniably beautiful and lulls the listener into a dream-like state.
As mentioned earlier, the EP has a lot of progressive elements. Not necessarily in the traditional rock or metal sense, though there are hints of writing that seem inspired by bands such as A Perfect Circle (APC) but with an entirely South African approach. This exact sound can be heard on the track “Pace”. This track starts off with a guitar part that drips heavily of APC; however, the rest of the elements that are introduced later are more reminiscent of Afro-jazz. This piece builds from nowhere into a memorable soaring chorus and the composition is highlighted by some great solos on the bass and guitar. This is a section of the EP that has a definitive ‘progressive rock’ sound but does not overstay its welcome. The piece then subtly drifts back into the groovier vibes of the chorus heard previously.
My personal favourite must be the dream-pop, synth-wavey “Pop Your Bubbles”, which is the only piece that does not feature vocals, but the synth work on this track is something else. The texture of the synths and guitar on this track conjure up visions of breathtaking alien landscapes, and grandiose space cities (utopian not dystopian). This track also has a wistful sadness to it which is possibly why I like it the most (I will always be a sad boi at heart).
The first track on the EP “Alchemy” also deserves some love. The interlocking polyrhythms heard throughout this track are mouth-watering for any musician who loves their music theory. This song also might have the best vocals on the album. Lebo’s soft falsetto layered with his gritty vocals is a delight to behold. And finally, there is “Contra Alley”. Although it is my least favourite track of the EP, it features catchier chants alongside some interesting harmony that drifts out of the realm of diatonality at times. To say this is my least favourite however is to say that sausages are my least favourite type of pork (I friggen love sausages).
Although this is a short listen and one of the five tracks is a tiny filler this might work to the band’s advantage. In fact, I find myself listening to this one, twice, or thrice in a row to get my fix. I hope Evening Machine come back strong with a full-length next year as the style they have developed is refreshingly unique and I am eager to see how they will develop it further.