The Evens The Odds(Dischord Records) Buy it from Insound
I was beginning to believe that the “indefinite hiatus” explanation applied to Fugazi’s absence may have been extended to The Evens, the post-hardcore equivalent folk-core band comprised of D.I.Y. punk pioneer Ian MacKaye and his wife, drummer Amy Farina. Thankfully, MacKaye and Farina have returned with The Odds, another stripped down and (mostly) minimalist art rock record humorously dressed up with a play on the band’s name.
After six years of silence, The Odds retains the traction of the band’s previous albums, progressions in songwriting apparent as the otherwise familiar banter of MacKaye’s baritone guitar is expressed with acoustical down strokes (Wanted Criminals, Sooner or Later) or rhythmical polish (King Of Kings, This Other Thing). His instrument allows him to supplant the traditional low end, its range versatile enough to work in melody.
For Farina, though her prowess behind the kit suits The Evens perfectly, her vocal provides a softening juxtaposition to MacKaye’s occasional gruffness. There’s a good amount of harmonizing between the both of them, songs like Architects Sleep and Timothy Wright finding grace in Farina’s falsetto. The same can be said for Sooner or Later which seems to embrace the sort of repetition and subtle chord progressions pursued by Queens of the Stone Age, a Blood Is Love swagger that’s eventually exchanged for a quieter, more intimate variation of the song’s melody.
With Wanted Criminals, MacKaye plays up some intensity, retrofitting some of Fugazi’s more contentious moments, conviction in his voice as layers of guitar sounds amass to create a fuller, more sonic arrangement than The Evens had previously attempted. “Everybody’s got their badges, but they got no one to apprehend!” stating in a manner that evokes closely those unbridled howls MacKaye had sprung in songs like Facet Squared or Back to Base.
Competing With The Till almost comes off Minutemen-rhythmic, the less-than-amicable relationship between artist and promoter detailed in the song’s situational stanzas which are accented by trumpet blasts and piano couplets. “Our audience is your clientele,” MacKaye and Farina sing, handling the indifference of staff members and an owner preoccupied with the bottom line while they set up for a performance at some anonymous venue. “The outlet’s not working,” Farina sings. “The news is met with a shrug… They say, ‘Yeah, just take a look around and find another plug.’”
Though The Evens attempts to thicken its naturally spare set-up occasionally in The Odds, the band’s approach remains minimalist and riff-reliant. This is only revealed as a limitation once with the particularly close-to-recycled number, I Do Myself. Otherwise, Farina and MacKaye both know how to add complexity without being excessive. Warble Factor, which was originally released as part of a 2-song single in late 2011, boasts one of the best opening riffs in the album and an almost arena worthy and full drum sound. Farina’s vocal is heavy and impassioned, just enough heart in her voice to make her words seem personal. This is also true of Broken Finger, a rather bouncy ode to the four-year old child that MacKaye and Farina share. And despite the subject matter, there’s really no hint of sentimental schmaltz anywhere to be heard in Broken Finger, possibly resultant from their decision to stray from the readymade tear-jerking purposes of balladry and present their devotional tune as a rock song. It’s certainly no less poignant.
The same cannot be said, though, for Let’s Get Well, a somber and somewhat countrified weight placed upon each strum of the guitar as MacKaye sings, “The truth is always in and around us/And the doin’ becomes the dyin’ when ignored.” Despite the album’s final track, which is an altered reprise of the album’s opening song, King Of Kings, Let’s Get Well offers The Odds its appropriate dose of melancholy, a device not uncommon with regard to the Fugazi canon. I think of songs like Promises, Shut the Door, Last Chance for a Slow Dance, Long Distance Runner… sequentially strong and mostly aggro selections of music being wound down by their closer.
While acknowledging Fugazi, and their ten or so years of silence, it should be stated that MacKaye is a rarity. After surviving an unfairly applied rep as a militant proponent of sobriety and punk rock violence, he had the opportunity to get past that. “Revolution Summer” happened: that explosion of creative independent rock bliss which followed the demise of D.C. Hardcore and saw the emergence of bands like Embrace, Rain, The Ignition, Three, Gray Matter, Soul Side and the preeminent Rites Of Spring, all of whom kept D.C. relevant and necessary with regard to the development of music that would later be coined “alternative” or “indie.”
Fugazi eventually grew from the seeds sown by “Revolution Summer,” a band perfectly cultivated from the scene’s aggression and hardline D.I.Y. stance in parity with new musical ideas. MacKaye was able to grow with integrity and evolve as a musician.
With The Evens, he’s been able to do that, again. At 50 years of age, MacKaye basks in his achievements, having escaped the potential shame in becoming yet another Fat Elvis of punk rock. And, he does this by continuing to make good music on his own terms. The Odds is excellent, because the odds are never against him.28 November, 2012 - 05:37 — Sean Caldwell