Jonas Bonetta, the man at the heart of Evening Hymns, releases his second album with contributions from members of The Wooden Sky, Ohbijou and Forest City Lovers, among others. But Evening Hymns is less an indie folk supergroup and more a collective loosely comparable with fellow Canadians Broken Social Scene.
Sometimes the fact that many musicians are involved on this album is apparent from listening to a single song, but at other times the intimacy and frankness of the music is such that it’s clear that no one other than Bonetta is involved. You can almost picture the other players grouped around the cabin in which Spectral Dusk was recorded, silently listening.
The name Evening Hymns is very much in keeping with the sound of Spectral Dusk – and of course the album title mirrors the band name. This is perhaps a deliberate bit of wordplay, but these allusions towards a day coming to a close and a light going out have a deeper meaning. Written following the passing away of Bonetta’s father, the album is a reflection on life, death and grief, and also a collection of memories.
The introduction begins as a buzz of static from which a ponderous sequence of chords emerges. The static continues and other sounds become detectable in it. Rain, wind, the hum of distant traffic? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what is being heard here: field recordings are used to great effect, and the fact that the album was recorded in a log cabin in Ontario rather than in a studio means that background noises and a palpable sense of warmth have had a chance to seep in. A field recording also closes the album: this time it includes the whoops of Bonetta and his brother shouting to one another across the huge Canadian landscape that is a quiet but constant presence throughout.
The way in which members of the collective appear in various numbers at different points makes for a record of contrasts, and while this might be more satisfying than a collection of similarly nuanced songs, it does mean that the lusher sounding tracks sometimes start to feel a little overproduced. In an album where the sparser songs feel perfectly complete, those that feature more instruments and voices occasionally struggle to justify their extra bulk.
“I use my voice to fill the space that I am in / It’s a space I do not know,” Bonetta sings on Arrows, the first track proper, and the song that strikes the most successful balance between quiet intimacy and broader strokes. His voice certainly does fill the space of the song, particularly when it first appears, backed only by a drum and a layer of feedback, but when vocal harmonies and electric guitar licks appear they augment rather than overwhelm.
Conversely, Asleep in the Pews feels more heavy handed, with the transition from an acoustic guitar accompaniment to soaring strings and brass jarring somewhat. There is beauty to be found, but it’s not quite in keeping with the album’s overall tone. The simpler, softer songs and passages, where we find Bonetta singing about his father with minimal backing are generally the most effective.
If there are both moments of intimacy and more grandiose sections in Spectral Dusk then Irving Lake Access Road is the album’s anomaly. A nine-minute instrumental piece in which stringed instruments drift through as gently as clouds, it’s an unexpected interlude. But it’s also a powerful track that seems to wordlessly reflect the themes of the album as they have been set out up to that point. This is an elegiac record and a paean to the Canadian landscape that Bonetta shared with his father, and it is summed up amidst these wafting strings.