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The Evens - The Odds

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Artist: The Evens

Album: The Odds

Label: Dischord

Review date: Nov. 20, 2012

After 30-plus years in underground music, Ian MacKaye deserves his rep. His musical output is remarkably consistent, and in two cases — Minor Threat and Fugazi — historical. Above all, perhaps, is MacKaye’s political commitment: to doing it yourself, to fair treatment as a consumer, and to non-violence as a spectator at his shows. For many people, MacKaye is the indie voice of conscience. With Fugazi on “indefinite hiatus” since 2003, what has MacKaye been up to? As you might guess, something pretty good. In the last decade, he has performed with his wife, Amy Farina, as The Evens. The Odds is their third album, but their first since their first child, and it finds the duo injecting their post-hardcore balladry with a little more urgency.

The Odds sounds a bit like MacKaye’s former bands reduced to a simmer. Ever consistent, he strums his baritone guitar with tight fist, setting up complex rhythms that Farina expands upon behind the kit. The duo sometimes breaks it down hardcore style, or injects a jerky post-punk rhythm to round out the riffs, as in the Gang of Four reminiscent “Competing with the Till,” which documents shitty nightclub owners. Mostly, though, the songs are built like mathematic formulae, where riff, verse, chorus, and bridge are all variations on a theme, turning each other inside out. From the opener “King of Kings” to the closing reprise, “KOK,” The Odds feels like one extended song with twists, turns and track breaks along the way. Some songs blossom out from that clenched fist to an upraised palm, like the beautiful mid-album pair of “Sooner or Later” and “Wonder Why,” where a haunting high melody paves the way for instrumental flights of open string strumming and surf beats.

Not surprisingly, each song is a parable or moral tale, and, as ever, MacKaye’s didacticism can sometimes get burdensome. The hectic “Wanted Criminal” opens up with that familiar MacKaye yell, always so invigorating and mostly absent from his Evens singing. But it soon gets a little trite with its message-oriented breakdown (“What if every single person was a deputy?” “Jails in search of prisoners.”) Anti-authoritarianism can devolve into adolescent wisdom all too easily.

On the flipside, the most notable strength of The Odds is Farina’s singing. Right from the beginning, with “King of Kings,” her voice is deep and powerful, and she eclipses MacKaye when they sing together. Within the band’s punishing rhythms, she comes to sound like early PJ Harvey, a little less angry, a little more righteous.

Maybe it’s a result of family life, or merely the beauty of the harmonies MacKaye and Farina find when they blend their voices, but The Odds delivers a persuasive happiness that helps the morality go down. There is palpable excitement in both the songwriting and the performance. And this energy prevents what might have been some late-stage lulls, where the riffs seem retread but the songs still feel new. The peril of consistency is predictability, and The Evens’ dour rhythmics can be a bit trying, but they’re also a sign of commitment. These two know they’re up to something good, both morally and musically.

By Scott Branson

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