Benjamin Verdoes, The Evil Eye (out now, Brick Lane Records)
Ever the experimentalist, Benjamin Verdoes has previously given listeners a pop twist on math rock with his band Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band as well as Sufi-poetry-inspired post-punk with Iska Dhaaf. Yet the Seattle songwriter’s solo debut, The Evil Eye, doesn’t feel very experimental, foregoing new sounds for new conceptual ideas.
The Evil Eye tells a story all about perceptions. While an evil eye is typically associated with malice or ill will, through his songs Verdoes explains how it’s also a sign of protection. He calls it “a love story.” Verdoes’ blending of storytelling and cross-cultural influence is impressive, though it is his piercing harmonies and lower-key-than-usual aesthetic that marks this effort, conjuring at times a striking resemblance to Jeremy Enigk’s own solo work. Yet there’s little else to distinguish The Evil Eye from Verdoes’ other projects. While it’s clear that Verdoes has great prowess as an indie rock composer, musically this album feels like a bit more of the same. Vocal melodies still rise triumphantly over fuzzy, grooving, calculated electric guitar lines in ways we’ve already heard from him.
The album’s finest moments are those that stray most from his norm—the haunting falsetto on closer “So Bari” feels transcendental and the eerie “When We Were Young” creates a lush atmosphere before pummeling into a folk-rock burner.
As a first solo outing it’s a decent start with great attention to conceptual details, but hopefully next time Verdoes will give us something a little more unexpected.