Ian MacKaye is a difficult figure to talk about without delving into hyperbole. He's noted for many things: the invocation of the Straight Edge movement with the line "Don't drink/Don't smoke/Don't fuck/At least I can fucking think" back in that day on Minor Threat's "Out of Step." He's the anti-Donald trump of the music world, steadfast in running a label that carries an almost singular cache of integrity, and for fronting Fugazi, a band that will reduce their fans into deserved blubbering praise. He grants interviews to every Kinko's manufactured zine that asks. Fugazi undercuts the rock concert papadigm by having all their shows all-ages and $5 a ticket. One of those that are universally respected by critics and fans, fostering this one Jack Black bit, "Whenever I feel lost and confused, I just stop and ask myself, 'What would Fugazi do?'"
I personally don't know how much of this is true and how much has gone onto myth (my favorite revolving around the fact that Fugazi did not offer merchandise at their shows, encouraging fans to make their own, resulting one enterprising guy into printing up and selling 'This is not a Fugazi shirt" shirts. This is a common enough story that I bet mine is not the only review of this album bearing this title) and it doesn't matter, since his many units have floated above the celebrity and focused their efforts on making great music. His latest incarnation, The Evens finds Ian singing in a calmer, more melodious voice and playing the dark horse of the guitar store - the baritone guitar. A giant, heavy battle axe of a thing situated somewhere between bass and guitar, interplays with his partner in Evens, Amy Farina, on drums and vocals. Farina is of the label mate band The Warmers, with whom I am unfortunately unfamiliar, but here, her sensitive drumming and harmonizing makes this a delicious modern folk record.
"All These Governors" will recall the more sing-song aspects of Fugazi, and that feel is present throughout the record, but there are great atmospheric pieces like "Sara Lee" that really distinguish this album. On that track, Farina's almost muted drumming meets a distant guitar strums and whistling (what's with all the whistling lately?) to create a tranquil pastoral song. MacKaye's distinctive rhythmic guitar style really shines on this record, lying unmasked of distortion, especially on the opening to "Blessed Not Lucky."
Farina takes the vocal lead on my favorite track "If It's Water," a mysterious burbling song. Another delicious number is the almost slow-dance number "Until They're Clear" where the two chant-croon about Scientology members (maybe?, it's a stretch. Whatever it's about, it's a great song.) The Evens is chock full of moody mysterious numbers, that at times recall Cat Power or Smog or even the less world-musicy moments of Ani DiFranco (another character whose music often has to take a backseat to her noble rep), but they decidedly have their own lean. Overall, its a curious and intriguingly rewarding listen.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com
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