When Ian MacKaye teamed up with the Warmers’ Amy Farina to write a song for the children’s show Pancake Mountain, Fugazi fans knew it was over, at least in a certain sense. The end result of that collaboration, the jubilant singalong “Vowel Movement,” was a clear indicator that the influential hardcore innovator had swapped the razor-sharp aggression of his Minor Threat days for a more stripped-down, even domestic style. And yet, that vital punk spirit never went away; it simply cast aside its layers of dissonance and noisy fury, leaving behind a pulsating, melodic core. MacKaye and Farina’s first two releases as the Evens—their 2005 self-titled debut and 2006′s Get Evens LP—were, at their hearts, punk albums: sudden, explosive hooks sandwiched between intimate baritone guitar and Farina’s sparse, jazz-inflected drumming. With their intense focus on melodic immediacy and quietly coiled lines of tension, the Evens remind us that punk isn’t dead: It’s just all about the rudiments now, rather than sheer raucousness.
On the personal front, a lot has happened to the duo in the past six years. MacKaye (who just turned 50) and Farina now have a 4-year-old son together. But don’t misconstrue such domestic bliss for a muddled musical vision. If anything, The Odds is perhaps the Evens’ most focused effort yet. Those who found the first two albums lacking in aggression will delight in the warbled chaos of “Wanted Criminals” (which gives us the closest thing to a scream we’ve heard out of MacKaye in years) and “This Other Thing.” There are few ballads to speak of—the party-by-yourself anthem “I Do Myself” is probably the most restrained cut on this album. The pervading sound, ultimately, is a hodgepodge of math-y baritone guitar riffs and sneaky, snaky drumming, like Rather Ripped-era Sonic Youth or Pinback’s earlier, proggier releases.
What sets the Evens—and The Odds—aside from the rest of the post-punk world is the balance struck between its members’ respective sounds. MacKaye’s got an eye for rhythmic intensity and simple, hummable hooks, while Farina provides much of the melodic and instrumental flourishes. Her drumming is the band’s secret weapon, and though it may be understated, it provides the propulsive energy for the album’s big moments: the surly stomp of “Broken Finger,” the snappy undertones of “Timothy Wright.” The hollow chug of MacKaye’s guitar is the perfect accompaniment to this percussive approach, and given the pared-down landscapes of the album, it does more than any full-bodied electric could ever do. Consider it yet another way in which punk sensibilities shine through—acoustic instrumentation carrying out the heavy lifting usually done by burly walls of guitar. With The Odds, the Evens have perfected the model of what we may consider post-post-punk: simple messages, tight instrumentation—this is grown-up grunge.