The Evens

Get Evens

(Dischord; 2006)

By Christopher Alexander | 21 October 2007

The Evens did a handful of tours before releasing their first record last year. I caught an early show in Olympia, WA last March, watching Ian MacKaye lead the crowd to sing along to songs they'd never heard. Most of the songs were relatively upbeat and melodic, recalling the earliest days of Fugazi but drained of the reggae influence and righteous fire. The last song they played that night, however, was more intense, culminating in the kind of shout that MacKaye was famous for. "You're fired!" they sang, and it was clearly aimed at George Bush. "Let the door hit you on the ass!" Everyone cheered, but something felt wrong -- this was a scant few months after Bush had been reelected, a heartbreaking event for the liberal community. The song was a look into a hope that never materialized; it felt cruel, or at least masochistic.

It's hard not to think about politics this week. I voted a straight ticket for the first time in my life, holding my nose to send a creep like Robert Menendez back so the Dems might have a chance at a Senate majority. As the returns came in, I felt invested, but now that I know the bums are on their way out, I can't help but feel cheated. It's a stop-gap, but it's not the solution: will the Democrats do anything about corporate influence in Washington? Ending the war is a good idea, but what about the lusty militarism that has defined our foreign policy? Etc. etc.

The problem is compounded by the new Evens record, which also came out this week. Like Fugazi before them, they make inventive, nimble music doubling as strident political broadsides. The aforementioned song, "Everybody Knows," appears two songs in. I thought listening to it on this side of Republican defeat would give it a sort of psychic reinvigoration. It's a great song, propelled by Amy Farina's hyper-kinetic percussion, but it's not the tonic for the malaise I feel. The two sing "Washington is our city" during the chorus, and it's a reminder that MacKaye has been walking the walk for twenty years now, seeing an endless line of cynical politicians cycle through town while he's been conducting his business in the most ethical way possible. Why did I think this would change just because I hitched my horses to the right wagon this year? Maybe I should've just put in "We Are the Champions."

Musically, Get Evens picks up where 12 Songs(2005) left off. The band's sense of dynamics and interplay has improved: Farina wisely relies less on delay effects and triggers on the traps, filling the empty spaces of MacKaye's lone guitar by playing with rolls and double-time beats. It makes the stops in their music snap, and allows her to play with odd time signatures, such as "No Money" which opens with a 7/4 beat and crashes to a stop after a great chorus. MacKaye still plays his baritone guitar through the clean channel, which unfortunately gives the overall sound a uniformity that's an ill fit for the leaps his playing makes in songs like "Pushed Against a Wall" and "Dinner with the President." The duo no longer explores the lyrical theme of their own relationship, though, and while it's somewhat comforting to hear MacKaye sounding disillusioned as well ("Why would they photo something so precious? / why would they sing in favor of their own defeat / maybe they found their voice while they were out shopping / the price was hard to beat," in opener "Cut from the Cloth") one also notices that Farina is quieter on this record. That's a shame, because she's the better lyricist, as proven on 12 Songs' "If It's Water" and "Round the Corner." A clue may lie in the tense "No Money," which seems to compare an erstwhile relationship to money in the bank. The song is cut in two, suggesting a male and female perspective on a soured relationship: MacKaye's line being "This is the price you did not count when you were counting me out," Farina wants to know "when love isn't made with one faithless payment / and what's the repayment for worth that is lost when / agreements are broken and good faith is stolen."

The significance of this is hard to say; part of the secret strength of 12 Songs was that the lyrics suggested that the way two people can conduct themselves in the most private of matters could match how they do so publicly. Like Winnipeg's Weakerthans, they wrote personal songs with an eye cast to the basic injustice of the outside world; but, unlike that band, The Evens found love a source of strength and shelter. "If I can't find you through all your things / how am I going to show you that we are free?" asks Farina on the purple jazz of "Eventually," which conveys (in a franker way) the heartbroken disconnect replete in The Weakerthans' work. Whether Get Evens is the band's Shoot Out the Lights is too soon to tell, but also irrelevant: the record is absolutely at a pace with the band's great debut.