The Evens: The Odds – album reviewThe Evens – The Odds (Dischord)
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Former Fugazi man in latest team up with Amy Farina.

Ian Mackaye seems to have been out there forever, creating great truth telling music and operating outside the usual margins of the music machine. The forthright Washington DC musician’s music has also been created without the usual hype, bullshit and desperate posturing usually witnessed in these, the dying days of the music business.

Mackaye’s first band, Minor Threat, are often called the ‘Beatles of hardcore’. In terms of their profound influence on the scene & with their faster and more furious take on British old school punk (and their very clear idea of what it was about) that loose statement is justifiable in underground terms.

The band sounded different as they changed the sonics of punk rock as it moved away from the big bang. They were razor tight with none of the sloppiness of the genre and also an added fierce energy that cranked the guitar, bass and drums of punk rock into a thrilling melee of sound. And always on top there was Ian Mackaye’s vocals- concise, clear and concerned with the small ‘p’ politic of growing up in the debris of the punk and post punk years.

One song, called Straight Edge threatened to become some kind of straightjacket. A thirty second rush of sound it was decrying rock n roll’s fascination with drugs and booze. It was a personal statement that said that the singer had no interest in that chemical road and gradually became the catalyst for some kind of surrogate religion with all kinds of varying opinions on how it should be applied by the new generation of kids coming into the punk rock wars with all the energy and fascination of trying to get into an alternative culture. Straight Edge was and is a powerful and intelligent message but it is certainly not a set of rules despite the fact that it created a whole scene that spun out into its own life.

Minor Threat imploded when they started to break out of their small scene. The contradictory pressures of what they were trying to achieve musically and culturally seemed to be too much for the band who debated everything they did. Post band the singer continued with the label that he had set up, Dischord, and with new bands such as Pailhead, Egg Hunt, Embrace and later Fugazi.

Fugazi were fantastic proof that Ian Mackaye’s vision could work. More experimental than Minor Threat, they added all kinds of new flavours to the sound and made some of the best cutting edge music of the decade.

Their live shows were incendiary with an intense focus and passion and a fierce energy channelled into their amazing music. They also operated under their own agenda- with an idealistic backdrop to their operation and a fierce disciplined DIY spirit.

For a decade they toured hard, propping up the live circuit as one of the few alternative bands that could pull in those 1000 plus crowds that financed independent promoters worldwide and kept them going when they put on other bands who pulled in far less people.

Eventually Fugazi went into hibernation- neither splitting or carrying on they are in a permanent hiatus. The rules of the game they had set from the start still held, if any band member didn’t want to play any more, the band would step aside.

Ian re-emerged with The Evens in 2004 with him on baritone guitar and Amy Farina on drums. This was very much a 50 / 50 duo, they shared vocal duties and the new stripped down, often quieter band suited him. The Evens, as the name suggests, are very much a two piece- onstage the duo face each other, immersed in the music and they share the space, the song writing and the singing.

Musically, their third album, The Odds, is not a giant leap anywhere from their first two albums, which is a good thing as this is about the song writing and the music now- the way the band operates is a given and their anti corporatisation of rock n roll stance has become their whole mode of operation. The songs are often introspective but also cutting with a commentary on their lives and the same small p personal politics that have always been a part of this story.

The playing is perfect with Ian and Amy complimenting eachother with that ideal symbiotic playing you always get from people who know each other inside out, but it’s the vocals that really mark the album out- with Amy singing with that soaring, cutting free voice of a Patti Smith. It’s the kind of voice that glides and sounds free from any constraints and is armed with a power, grace and beauty of its own. When Ian sings his songs it’s with an almost learned distinctive, direct voice or these really beautiful falsettos, proving that all those years of yelling about the racket has not destroyed his voice.

The Odds is a welcome missive from the heartland of idealistic musical culture that stands on its own terms with its musical content and this is the key- strip away the history and the back story and the ever inspiring DIY aesthetic and you have got  a great record that is musically and emotionally powerful and stands out on its own as one of the key releases in this fractured and strange year.

The Evens website can be found here.

All words by John Robb. More by John can be found here.

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Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.



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