Release Date: November 20, 2012
The further he gets from Fugazi, the more Ian MacKaye seems comfortable with allowing his current band to echo the legitimately legendary D.C. post-punk powerhouse he once co-fronted. (Though officially “on hiatus,” they haven’t played a show since 2002, and if there’s one band in the world you can count on to never cash in….) When MacKaye and Amy Farina — herself a D.C. punk vet, via the Warmers — launched the Evens in 2005, their relative lack of volume and stridency felt like a deliberate flight from all those years of loud guitars and righteous shouts.
With album number three, delivered a full six years after their debut, the duo — him on baritone guitar, her on drums, both singing — flares up like never before, and they’re more compelling than ever. (A less generous assessment might be that they’re finally compelling.) MacKaye’s instrument of choice here requires the songs to either meander or chug, since a baritone guitar doesn’t resonate the way a regular electric does, but when he plays it forcefully, as on “Sooner or Later” and the barnburner “Wanted Criminals,” there are no blanks to fill in — these songs flat-out rock. (Side note: MacKaye turned 50 this year.)
Farina’s drums and voice generally provide a perfect complement. Her pounding style comes from punk, both gloriously simple and from-the-gut, and when their voices mingle — sometimes locking in, sometimes weaving around each other — they sound like post-punk’s perfect power couple. (They have a son together, in addition to a band.) It’s only when she diverges into sultry vocal leads, as on The Odds‘ sole clunker, “Warble Factor,” that the Evens sound less than fully confident.
And then there are the words: MacKaye has never been shy about using songs to decry injustice, and there’s plenty of on-the-nose commentary here, addressing everything from the prison-industrial complex (“Wanted Criminals”) to greedy, disinterested promoters (the cheeky “Competing with the Till”) to the consciences of warmongers (“Architects Sleep”). If you agree with his and Farina’s firebrand humanism, it’s easy to nod along; if you don’t, there are no screaming guitars to shield you from your guilt and greed, you fascist.
But strangely, it’s the sole wordless track here that conveys the heart of this band best: “Wonder Why” starts with some pretty guitar picking, then builds itself into a tense, terse, hypnotic wonder. It sounds both ominous and joyful, concerned but optimistic. It also locks into a groove like nowhere else on the record — a groove that recalls another band that liked to slip a terrific instrumental onto almost every album. But for maybe the first time, the Evens actually make you miss Fugazi a little bit less.