On “The Odds” The Evens Play Like Beatnik Shakers

The Odds, the third album that Ian Mackaye and Amy Farina have released as The Evens, is both tidy and intimate, thrilling on a small scale.  The Evens play like beatnik Shakers — every line plumb, no ornamentation, with a surface minimalism that is beautiful even as you sense the underlying passion.  It’s just Ian and Amy, he on guitar, she on drums, a self-contained unit so cozy you could see them recording The Odds in their living room, yet so quietly ferocious that, particularly on a song like “Wanted Criminals,” you easily could imagine Mackaye playing the song with his late, lamented band Fugazi.

D.C.’s own Fugazi was one of the strongest American acts from the late ’80s to their demise in 2003, but while most people remember them for the sheer ferocity of their playing, there was even then, in Mackaye’s songs, a small-weave precision amidst the ruckus.  Melody was the ingredient often missing, but in Mackaye’s and Farina’s songwriting, call-and-response vocals and the bare minimum instrumentation wouldn’t work nearly as well as they do if melody weren’t the glue holding it all together.  On this scale, Mackaye’s guitar work is especially fine, but the revelation here, to an extent we hadn’t realized listening to their two previous albums, is how fine a drummer Farina is.  “Wonder Why” sounds like a demo that Pete Townshend and Keith Moon might have cooked up before the Tommy sessions.  And it is clear from both her singing  — which often lands somewhere between Liz Phair circa Exile and Corin Tucker — and the way she pounds the drum kit, that Farina is Mackaye’s equal in every way.

With the anti-commercialism we’ve come to expect from Mackaye, The Odds was released Thanksgiving week, long after critics’ Top Ten lists have been compiled, and with tour support falling at a time of year when people are perhaps least inclined to go out in the evening to see a band.  But make no mistake, while we didn’t hear this in time to put it on Tulip Frenzy’s Top Ten List for 2012 ™, The Odds would have created a rethinking of the order.  And this is an album we look forward to playing often, for years to come.  It is thrilling rock’n’roll, with nothing lo fi about it, yet gorgeous enough you can imagine playing it while keeping warm before the fireplace, all winter long.

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