Two Heads are Better than One
Amanda Palmer doesn’t just do “high concept.” She’s an idea factory churning out fantastical steam-punk vehicles daubed in gothic paint, newfangled cabaret music in their boomin’ systems. It could be a failing or maybe creative savvy, but she’s also always had prominent partners to tell her stories as individual scenes (see: Brian Viglione’s drums propelling The Dresden Dolls) or full chapter and verse (see: Ben Folds assisting her solo bow Who Killed Amanda Palmer?). So let’s greet former Seattle busker Jason Webley, who might be pushing Palmer to her greatest musical success yet: acknowledging the life and times of Evelyn Evelyn, the world’s only fictional conjoined-twin singer-songwriters.
Evelyn Evelyn finds Webley and Palmer alternately occupying the roles of Eva and Lyn Neville, and stepping out to recount the sisters’ oft-horrifying backstory. It’s home to the kind of intelligently debauched and frequently graphic singing and lyrics that are right in Palmer’s wheelhouse. As a Dresden Doll, she’s found great, specific moments to intersect old-time burlesque with timely themes and humor, sort of like Bernadette Peters’ character in the film Blazing Saddles. Given this chance to spin a complete yarn, Palmer is at her charming, creepy best.
Fellow neo-bohemian Webley complements her instrumental talents, helping her construct beautiful and morbid New American Gothic arrangements full of toy and antique pianos, accordion, fiddles, and horns. Most importantly, though, Webley is Palmer’s first full-on vocal foil: Instead of the breathless solo delivery and conversational overdubs that first hooked her fans, Palmer trades lyrics with Webley in Evelyn Evelyn like kisses. The results include a slate of well-considered goofs on the twins’ attempts at cultural relevance, like their early, spacious cover of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” the bawdy “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?”, and the power-ballad parody “My Space.”
It’s a tale so focused as to make those meandering faux historians The Decemberists take notes, and so full of modern conceits as to make Nick Cave proud. The duo in particular take advantage of devastatingly inventive wordplay—the band name alone gets twisted and teased by song titles (“Elephant Elephant”), one of the group’s record labels (Eleven Records), even knowing lines like “Tell us of the tragic events of September, Evelyn” (“11th,” get it?). Somewhere between stage musical and radio play, Evelyn Evelyn is as purely theatrical a thing as Amanda Palmer’s ever had the chance to record, and an opportunity seized to elevate, elevate her game.