ake the most melodic moments of Fugazi add a female vocalist to the mix and voila! The Evens. OK, so maybe it’s not quite that easy, but The Evens’ self-titled debut does sound curiously like hardcoreless moments of The Argument polished and lengthened into full-fledged songs. The rub, of course, is that all too frequently these songs are one idea—given the light of day and expected to stand up on its own. But whenever that situation occurs, the duo of Ian MacKaye and ex-Warmers member Amy Farina seems to follow it up with a redeeming pop construction.
What’s more interesting here, perhaps, and is obviously the main focus of the proceedings are the vocal talents of each. MacKaye’s voice is a relatively known quantity: a bit weak, prone to lashing out when all else fails, and never regarded as a particularly talented. All of which are used entirely to his advantage on something like “Sara Lee,” where for long stretches his voice is put uncomfortably high in the mix and asked to carry the repetitive song’s weight. His lack of training and fearlessness about the fact that he seems to be out-of-key are endearing and allow the listener to follow him into the track further, through its choruses in which Farina joins in, and to its end.
Farina takes the lead on “Around the Corner” and “If It’s Water,” lending each track a strange mix of fragility and strength. At the very least, she makes the latter song more listenable than it would be, considering its relatively slight backing track.
Overall, the lyrical concerns are what you might expect from something that MacKaye would put his name on: the loss of community and the struggle to recapture it is the main one. From the personal-is-political nature of something like “Shelter Two” to the political-is-political “All These Governors,” it all can be traced back to MacKaye’s embrace of the idea that everything is political—whether we care to admit it or not.
The musical backing is similarly bare of affectation and broken down to a number of small elements, pushed to the limits of their effectiveness. In most cases, each song is given melodic depth by MacKaye’s baritone guitar and Farina’s stripped-kit drumming. A bass guitar seems to make an appearance here or there, but it’s an illusion—12 Songs is the two of them making just enough music to provide bed for their vocal contributions.
With the release of a new Fugazi album seemingly a long time away and the label of side-project fixed firmly upon it, The Evens might seem like a sidelight, worthy only of casual attention. Pity them, eh? The Evens sees one side of the Fugazi sound being completely fleshed out and it’s a beautiful thing to hear.