Evan Symons Special
Reviews in this issue:
Uneven Steps - Pacified
Pacified was the second release for Uneven Steps following Cactus Eye 7 in 1994. The lineup was comprised of Angela Rancourt (vocals), Evan Symons (guitar, vocals, percussion), Michael Symons (guitar), James Dean IV (bass) and Joe Bodner (drums). Musically the band a relatively more complicated style of folk-rock that occasionally steps into a progressive rock territory.
Admittedly the album does start off on a more alternative note, the music does eventually become more intriguing with the passage of time. The first few tracks, Three, Sleep It Off and Lofty Elite are all in a relatively acoustic setting with duetting going on between Symons and Rancourt. Of these the one that struck me most was Lofty Elite with its placid and dragging feel with a guitar sound that constantly threatens to break out into a full distortion but never does so.
However with Cactus Eyes Don't Matter the whole musical setting was shifted radically. One of the first artists to spring to mind, to whose music I could possibly compare the style presented by Uneven Steps from here onwards, would be Frank Zappa. Featuring a totally uncompromising style, the track features a series of quirky chords with the vocals reaching new heights in their presentation, which is were the Zappa comparisons come in.
Jest As Well resorts back to the alternative style, similar to the first tracks on the album. One of the main ingredients for the band's music is their lack of a commercial trait. On tracks such as this the music and vocals seem to be discordant with little connection between them. However they occasionally converge retaining that link that makes tracks like this all the more intriguing. Feel, Don't Follow is similar though the presence of a lengthy duet makes the track somewhat more accessible.
By the time of Turn Your Motor Down, one realises that one of the reasons why the music acquires that strangeness and charm is because of Symon's nasal vocals. Relatively limited in range, the vocals tend to drop off at times creating a drone-like feeling that admittedly can become rather tedious at times as it does tend to be slightly overdone, as happens on this track. Spiced Litany features a completely different presentation, from the musical viewpoint. The guitar work has become bolder with the music also becoming more upbeat. At times the track seems as if it could descend into a rather more commercial approach but this is wiped away with the presence of that one chord that sends the whole track into the land of non-commercialism.
Damsel In Distress is one of the most easy-listening tracks on the album while After A Fashion sees Uneven Steps descend into a more proto-punk orientated direction. The album comes to a close with Repent that once again presents the Zappa references that could make this band's music appealing to certain factions of progressive rock lovers.
Admittedly this album from Uneven Steps is extremely difficult to classify because of the mere fact that the music that is played out seems to stand in between a variety of genres. To say that they are a progressive rock band would not be appropriate whilst on the other hand the are a bit too complex to be merely labelled as alternative. One could describe the music as one that is mostly of an alternative/proto-punk nature with certain Zappa-esque influences.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Evan Symons - Transition To A New Dream
Following the split between Angela Rancourt and Evan Symons, Uneven Steps broke up in 1997 which resulted in Symons going solo. A year later Symons released a solo album titled Transitions To A New Dream, a relatively short album that also featured two tracks (Renewal and Dream Operator) that he had written with Rancourt. As oft happens on solo projects, Symons also plays all instruments as well as takes care of the vocals.
Once again after repeated listenings, I have to admit that the progressive element is somewhat lacking on this record which has a more of an alternative rock feel. Gone are some of the more interesting features that characterised the music of his previous band Uneven Steps such as the duets with Angela Rancourt. Unfortunately Symon's voice is a bit too nasal and after a short while becomes slightly unnerving as it tends to stagnate the music.
Unfortunately after hearing Uneven Steps, one cannot fail to compare the sound between the two. On this album the sound is almost completely acoustic with the drums replaced by a drum machine (one of things I hate most!). The album does have its moment such as on Not Sure which is slightly more upbeat than most of the other tracks on the album. However, it seems that Symons has too many ideas running through his musical brain and is unable to successfully translate them. The end result is a series of half-baked tunes that show a degree of promise yet lack that certain magic touch. Unfortunately, the fact that the whole of the album was performed as a solo artist did not allow Symons to benefit from the input of other band members.
A number of tracks also involve the use of the clarinet, similar to Rick Ray, which does help to enhance the musical spectrum. However the album itself does not rank too highly with Symon's vocals becoming tedious and dragging after a short while. Once again it seems that the only people who could draw interest from this album would be fans of Frank Zappa, but even then I do not think that there is enough stimulatory material.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.
Evan Symons - Ten Year Obsession
This album was originally a cassette only release in 1994 and featured home demos from Evan Symons' for the period covering 1983-1993. Now available on CD, this album gives an insight into what styles Symons' was primarily involved with at the initial stages of his career. Having heard the album one can deduce that the music is a cross between alternative punk and the zany music of Captain Beefheart. In fact one has to admit to Symons modelling his vocals on that of Captain Beefheart, something which would not go down too well with too many listeners.
The earliest tracks on the album come from the period 1982-1984, when Symons was in a punk rock band called Burndogs Hyenas and many of their tracks such as What's My Problem and What Society appear here. Some of the tracks feature guitar work that is extremely pleasant to listen with the sound being proto-punk without the characteristic distortion of most punk bands, though admittedly sometimes Symons does let go as on Beware The Future. The Captain Beefheart venerence does appear on this album on tracks such as Ties and Turn Your Motor Down as does the occasional Zappa reference (Infinity/Uninfinity). However, the album is of little or no appeal to the progressive rock fan and possibly should not be even reviewed on such sites!
Conclusion: 4 out of 10.
Uneven Steps - Celebration Of Regret
Five years later, and Evan Symons has resurrected the Uneven Steps moniker albeit with a completely different lineup from the original one. This time round, apart from Symons one finds Will Plut (drums), Andrew Amy (keyboards, samples), Richard Fordham (bass, mixing) and Natsumi Sawada (bass). One of the main differences between this lineup and the previous incarnation of Uneven Steps is the absence of a female vocalist, who I must admit is missed somewhat on this new release.
By far the most accessible of the albums that I have heard from Evan Symons, Celebration Of Regret is also the album that one could consider to be the least prog-oriented of his albums. Thus what we get here is an album that verges more on the alternative rock with a reduction in the quirkiness that characterised his music on earlier albums.
The album itself can be divided into three styles. The first includes those tracks that are relatively more commercial, such as Conductor's Wife, though they still have an underlying alternative feel. Others seem to come from the school of pro-progressive rock with the guitar work playing along the lines of bands such as Television and Jonathan Richman (Mikayla, Celebration Of Regret). Finally we get the tracks in which Symons is all alone with his guitar as on the track The Mirror. It seems that in such instances Symons excels and his voice though still monotonous, manages to fit in well with his style of playing. Possibly the tag of troubadour rather than rock musician would suit him more!
Once again, after hearing this album there is the dilemma of placing the music into a neat category. As I mentioned earlier this album is the least progressive of the albums from the Symons repertoire, yet is by far the most accessible.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.