With Fugazi in the midst of a four-year hiatus and no reprise in sight, post-hardcore fanatics have been fervently awaiting new material from the band’s iconic leader, Ian MacKaye. With the release of the eponymous debut of MacKaye’s new project, the Evens, the wait is finally over. But the result may leave the devoted scratching their heads.
A duo consisting of MacKaye (who also played in Minor Threat, Embrace and the Teen Idles) and Amy Forina (formerly the drummer/vocalist of the Warmers), the Evens combine a stripped-down, sparse sound with lush harmonies, and the result is a collection of deceivingly catchy low-fi pop. This effort gives us a glimpse of Mackaye’s softer side. Lyrically, the usual suspects are all there: political dissent, a healthy distrust of authority and laments on the state of society. Fused with this new mellower sound, these themes are strikingly more affecting and seemingly more sincere.
One of the album’s more pleasant surprises is MacKaye’s vocal range, which he’s been hiding from us all these years, only hinting at it on a few Fugazi releases. MacKaye opts to put his subdued, weatherworn singing voice on display and check his trademark snarl at the door. It’s a wise choice: he has a latent knack for melody that was never given the chance to mature in his previous work.
That said, Forina is the true star of this project. The pair shares lead vocal duties, but the album’s finest moments come when she is vocally at the forefront. Rich and textured, Farina’s voice is capable of alternately coming off coy, earnest and desperate without sounding contrived. With the kind of percussion skills that Jack White likely has wet dreams about, Forina also serves as a perfect complement to Mackaye’s deep, earthy baritone guitar.
From the sweet, playful opening track “Shelter Two” to more menacing, politically charged contributions “All These Governors” and “You Won’t Feel A Thing,” MacKaye and Forina use infectious harmonies and call-and-response interplay to enthrall the listener. Combined with MacKaye’s overtly political lyrics, they form a beguiling collection of songs that speak of the discord in today’s society. The album does lull at times, and certain songs, including “On The Face Of It” and “Minding One’s Business,” lack any clear direction.
With Fugazi’s future up in the air, the faithful may have a lengthy wait ahead of them before any new material sees the light of day. But MacKaye seems content to explore the new sonic landscapes he’s dipped his toe into with this new project. His stanch fan base should take heart: in Farina, MacKaye has found the ideal partner to take the plunge with. Their chemistry undeniable, this debut could serve as a watershed for both members’ future creative outputs.