And, progarchy continues its examination of a missed masterpiece, Kevin McCormick’s With the Coming of Evening. This review comes from our own progarchist master of all things mathematical and stained, Tad Wert.
Tad Wert: Kevin McCormick’s 1993 album, With the Coming of Evening, is a wonderful work that I missed when it was released. Fortunately, in this digital age nothing is lost, and hopefully this album will reach the wider audience it deserves.
The first track, Uncovered, sets the mood for the entire work, with acoustic guitar and McCormick’s tremulous vocals. At first listen, I was struck by the obvious late-period Talk Talk influence (Spirit of Eden), but there’s a lot more going on here than mere imitation. For example, there’s a lively middle section in Uncovered where a shuffling drum beat, jazzy organ and bass join in as McCormick sings the impressionistic verses, “As the grain is wound and wound, it rings a new scar each year/Branches brace a part of me/And suns and rains, and suns and rains survive, the past completed./Few can graft the limb to soul and wind it all down to the core to cure the last, to cure the last./Waiting to be bound, waiting to be bound, ….” (I’m not sure about the exact words, since I don’t have a lyric sheet, but that’s what I’m hearing). So right off the bat, there is a very nice use of a tree’s growth rings to symbolize life’s tribulations.
Next up is an instrumental tune, Annual Ring (there’s that metaphor again!), that seamlessly links Uncovered to the third track, Summoned. While less than two minutes long, this is one of my favorite songs of the album. An insistent Eno-esque atmosphere swells up while an undercurrent of vibes and Eastern-styled percussion weave in and out. Before you know it, you’re well into Summoned, which is another Spirit of Eden-style song. However, this time around McCormick adds some nicely angular electric guitar that adds tension to the primarily acoustic mix.
Sho Song is another instrumental featuring a nice Japanese feel with flutes and arco bass. Imagine a peaceful Zen garden in the late afternoon, and this would be your soundtrack.
Ransomed is a more straight-ahead rock composition featuring electric guitar mixed up front with simple bass and drums accompaniment. It steadily builds in intensity, as McCormick delivers the evocative words, “Can’t see, but I feel, and I feel./That’s what he said up on a tree, when he ransomed me.” It’s a terrific song, and its abrupt ending lends it impressive power.
Rokudan is another linking instrumental with treated piano and an ominous underpinning of deep bass that slowly resolves into a beautiful motif that is repeated and slowly improvised upon. Think Harold Budd/Brian Eno here.
Without Breathing features an opening riff that is Talk Talk’s “Life’s What You Make It” turned inside out. There’s a feeling of barely controlled chaos in this song, as the riff asserts itself over an energetic guitar solo.
Under the Meniscus is another nice instrumental that leads into the straight-ahead blues of Looks Like Rain.
Glimpses begins with some classically-styled acoustic guitar, which is soon joined by double bass and cello. Some tasteful electric guitar joins in as McCormick sings, “You’ve held back so long /Now is the time /In silence the pledge was taken /Relentless static is fulfilled /From the forest that I entered /To the desert where I ended /My feet have calloused /My heels are tuned in, turned on /And I hear you in great frequency.” To my ears, this is the centerpiece of the entire work, as musically it alternates between foreboding and dread to joyful anticipation.
The album closes with the beautiful and measured Elegy for the Empty Orchestra. Featuring a gorgeous melody played on acoustic instruments, this is the perfect closer.
With the Coming of Evening proudly wears its influences on its sleeve: a liberal amount of Talk Talk, a dash of Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison, sprinkle in some tasteful Brian Eno atmospherics and Japanese modes, and you have sense of who and what McCormick admires. Add to the mix his excellent classically-tinged acoustic guitar work, his evocative lyrics, and impeccable pacing, and you end up with a very mature and moving work. This is music to employ when you desire space for contemplation. This is music that unfolds to repeated and close listening. Like the best literature, this is music that rewards the listener with new and deeper insights whenever it is revisited.