Carla Bozulich’s gambit of shedding the rock band format on the album Evangelista was a brilliant move, a declaration of sonic independence from her own past as bracing as Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones. Abetted by a shifting selection of Canadian musicians, many associated with Godspeed! You Black Emperor, she was able to let her songs assume whatever form and dress them in whatever sounds they needed. It was hard to see what she’d gain by turning the project into a group; why put the straightjacket back on?
Fortunately Evangelista-the-group aren’t the genre-bound shoehorn that the Geraldine Fibbers – Bozulich’s old band with Nels Cline – were. While she, keyboardist Dominic Cramp and bassist Tara Barnes have toured relentlessly, they’ve kept things loose by leaving the door open to other musicians who might join for a string of gigs or a single night. Their recording process is similarly fluid. Members of the original Canadian coterie join friends from the road and former bands on Prince of Truth, Evangelista’s second record, while core members drop out whenever their presence would be superfluous. Laid low with pneumonia, Bozulich actually missed the bulk of the original recording session in Toronto.
This non-involvement may have contributed to her willingness to chop, layer, and distort the raw material into a ProTools-enabled collage whose component songs are free once again to take the shape they need. The changes in “On The Captain’s Side” creep up on you like the blackness of cloud cover on moonless night; you can’t tell when things go from inky to invisible until it’s already happened. The accumulation of flickering electronics, ghostly saw, and flagrantly weepy strings ooze fraught atmosphere over the ballad “Tremble Dragonfly” the same way filmmaker Guy Maddin uses Vaseline-smeared lenses to turn cornball scenarios disturbing, and the refusal to repeat any element save Bozulich’s voice ratchets up the tension even more. The vibe here is as gothic as a Scott Walker production, but where his last couple records deny the listener any relief, Bozulich is still willing to give her audience a big rock pay-off undiluted by the cut-and-paste production. “The Slayer” may open the record with a couple minutes of overlaid Lee ‘n’ Thurston guitar chime, synthetic squiggle and bowed bicycle wheels, but when Bozulich’s voice looms into the mix, power chords crunch and drums pummel like blackened shadows of Sunn 0))). Turns out you can have your band and eat it, too.