The Evens – The Odds

It’s been eleven years since the last Fugazi album, and notwithstanding the motherlode of live tapes made available online earlier this year, it’s safe to assume nothing new is in the works. It’s even been six years since the last Evens record (Get Evens), during which time Ian MacKaye and drummer Amy Farina had their first child. MacKaye’s never been one to repeat himself, and given his continuing lyrical bile it’d be misleading to say he’s mellowed. But based on The Odds one might conclude he’s built up a store of adrenaline that required a release valve, because the Evens’ third album dials up some of his old maelstroms.

The Odds fits neatly within the Evens oeuvre – a bass/drum duo with a minimum of amplification (technically MacKaye plays a “baritone guitar,” but whatever) and a near-even split of vocals, often jump-cutting from Farina to MacKaye between lines or meshing the pair in close-harmony unison. The effect is reminiscent of the subdued, guitar-free approach of Fugazi’s “Long Division.”

What’s different this time is Farina’s drumming, which is suddenly more direct and less jazz inflected. While the majority of the album remains set on percolate, The Odds also offers more uptempo tracks. The most striking of these, “Wanted Criminals,” finds MacKaye lathering into one of his old-school, bulging-neck-vein wails, amid a crescendo of dissonance that stands in stark contrast to the duo’s usual spare arrangements. Given MacKaye’s political bent one might expect a Cheney/Rumsfeld rant but here he offers a subtler twist. The song takes aim at the for-profit prison industry and/or vigilante border patrols, lambasting “jails in search of prisoners” and asking “what if every single person was a deputy?”

The Odds’ main fault is that MacKaye falls back on the same rapid-strum guitar patterns a few times too often, creating an aura of redundancy by the album’s second half. Still, it’s a nice ride and a welcome return. Farina and MacKaye come across as the world’s most seething folk band, a duo who have found new avenues of expression without compromising an iota of their principles. It’s a damn impressive way to hit middle age.

The Evens
The Odds