Review Summary: Let's get well.
How much and how little The Colonies That Could have changed since Fugazi
’s legacy-topping The Argument
. Jobs have dried up almost as badly as the Great Depression as trickle-down economics reap what they’ve sown. Religion, corporations, and illogical side-taking increasingly intrude and roadblock progress in politics. Grade schoolers and movie-goers are gunned down in fits of selfish, misplaced societal vengeance. Many arguments with few solutions, with few citizens willing to step up and make change in a stale, self-obsessed social world.
I’m of the opinion that Ian MacKaye fulfills the title “American citizen” better than any other musician working today. He does not posture. He does not proselytize. He simply lays out anecdotal arguments and demands listeners draw their own conclusions, forces them to think critically. In the same way that Jack White bleeds the blues, MacKaye bleeds equality. He sees society and picks it apart with his distinctive repertoire of dub, rock, punk, and hardcore, a figurehead for the benefits of counter-culture. He’s part of that rare breed of rock musician whose convictions and art are so deeply intertwined as to become inseparable. Together with Amy Farina, his wife, drummer and co-singer in The Evens
, the two are a powerhouse of righteous artistic concern.
After taking a 6-year break to birth and learn the ropes of raising a son, they’ve returned with The Odds
, a studio album about, as always with Dischord releases, problems. But these are problems for the future, for the son they’ve brought into the world, for the next generation, concerns we’ve yet to face. These critiques are delivered in an accessible musical package more consistently melodic and subtle than any Fugazi
record, the sound of the songs coming closer to a early Black Keys
sparsity, with a dash of White Stripes
claustrophobia, and a fluid rhythmic complexity recalling Sara Lund’s drumming for Unwound
and Hungry Ghost
. Though low on snarl, the record is not without snark or intensity. MacKaye’s baritone guitar riffs, brassy, snappy, and catchy, complement the gruff urban stories of these songs perfectly, and the lyrics are consistently fascinating. On “Wanted Criminals”, MacKaye slowly unravels a police state in increasingly disturbing slogans while Farina’s haunting harmonies turn the statements into miniature prophecies:
“Need a job, need a job, need a job, need a job/People need something to do/ They’re gettin’ angry/ So the bosses came up with a hell of a plan/ security job for each and every man/ more alligators for their boats/ keep ‘em hungry/ What if every single person was a deputy?/ Writing on the wall/ Jails in search of prisoners...”
Meanwhile, on “Competing With The Till”, a dark, byzantine main bassline and ghostlike sampled voices give way to a mocking chorus, an elevator-muzak send-up complete with twinkling piano, over which the duo repeats, with MacKaye in an out-of-character monotone, “Our audience is your clientele.” Though these songs are skeletons, they are interesting ones, with far more honesty and take-away messages than most loud-and-proud rock bands.
One of the best features of these songs is how Farina and MacKaye’s voices blend and complement one another extremely well, her clean high register the perfect yin to the gritty and low rant that has become MacKaye’s yang. While singing together they meld exquisitely, but where the two go above and beyond is when they harmonize. See the chorus of “Architects Sleep”, where they enter together (“and the architects lie awake”), and for a few beats Farina’s voice ascends while MacKaye’s descends(“trying to forget”), and then they snap back together to deliver the knock-out punch: “all their mistakes.”
Make no mistake, this is not the heir to the Fugazi throne. It is a different, more hummable, more nurturing beast than its grumpy, politically incendiary brother, sparser and subtler, more open for interpretation and easier to simply put on and listen to as a really well-produced rock record, a call of “Let’s Get Well” rather than lamenting an “Epic Problem”. That doesn’t mean that The Odds
is devoid of deep meaning and critique. On the contrary, it’s a record rife with thought-provoking lyrics and incisive proletariat-rustling critiques, an important document for American youth of today and tomorrow, a respectful sit-down argument with a pair of prolific political musicians from the heart of America’s corruption and flaws.
And, honestly, what more could you ask for?