I hesitate before elaborating on the description of The Evens given in their Dischord press release: “The Evens are a band from Washington, D.C. Ian MacKaye (Fugazi) plays baritone guitar and Amy Farina (The Warmers) plays drums. They both sing.” This is not an album to be delineated by a glut of adjectives, by a perfectly executed statement that is at bottom of the consistency of air. I doubt that too many people are going to listen to this who are not familiar with anything Ian MacKaye has been previously involved in and that said, what separates The Evens from that previous material is their restraint and those moments on this album, the best moments, which are subtly and surprisingly affecting. While some of the songs come off sounding like sketches that could have been better flushed out by denser arrangements or more virulent recordings, that same sparseness suits others perfectly and imbues them with a graceful evocativeness.
The prime example of this sparseness is “Sara Lee” — a song slightly reminiscent of “The Kill” from Fugazi’s last album The Argument — which rests on the primal rhythm generated by Farina’s drumming and MacKaye’s softly strummed guitar as it emerges from an otherworldly cloud of whistling. The pensive tone of the music is imaged by the lyrics which serve to remind that what this world is and what opportunities we have in it are subject to our own perception. For those with the will to reinvent it is a world of infinite possibility, an open field in which any number of directions can be chosen.
“All these Governors,” one of the tracks that a full band could have cast into orbit, examines the result of the `governors’ in our lives — both those that place limitations on our lives, and those limitations themselves, by which the possibilities for our lives are limited. It complements “Sara Lee”‘s optimism with the reality inflicted on individuals in our society. MacKaye’s old focus on those things that control the ways we live our lives is as plainly stated as it has been many times before here, but the song is missing the energy provided by the energy of Fugazi. The same can be said for “Mt. Pleasant Isn’t” and “You Won’t Feel a Thing,” which one wishes could break out of the limitations of the two-piece. Another track that works better is “Blessed Not Lucky,” another contemplative tune in which the male, female vocals fall softly into place together above the slow pulse of its rhythm. And at bottom, the steadiest aspect of this album is the rawness and precision of its rhythms. The simplicity of the opening track, “Shelter Two,” ostensibly a recollection of a pleasantly mundane day, is belied by the ambiguity of the repeated line, “it’s all downhill from here.” Is that something to look forward to or something to be disturbed by? Are things going to get easier or are they going to get worse?
This album’s ability to bring rise to such questions is what endears it to me. It is not going to blow minds or explode in an army of devotees. It is much more suggestive than abrasive, more sensitive to grey areas than concerned with making anyone see things in one particular way and I appreciate that. MacKaye and Farina’s vocals slide easily around each other and give the slighter songs a vividness that they would otherwise be lacking. Unexpected moments like the crooning harmony vocals on “Crude Bomb” give the otherwise esoteric lyrics a sense of directness and playfulness, a combination that is nothing if not engaging. “Minding One’s Business” feels like nothing short of a mantra, one to be recalled when things are looking bleak, when one is feeling closed in, and as a whole the album feels somewhat the same — a reminder to keep your mind and senses open that you may take pleasure in the small things that this world has to offer.
Fugazi – The Argument
Cat Power – What Would the Community Think?
Beauty Pill – The Unsustainable Lifestyle