Being political is pretty cool these days, I think — Bright Eyes singing that ‘President Talks to God’ song in a cowboy hat comes to mind, and Okkervil River has a similar one-off called ‘The President’s Dead’, the content of which you can probably guess. And both of these songs are actually decent; it’s just that writing one protest number and sliding it covertly into your repertoire is a far cry from what punk ideologue Ian MacKaye and his wife/bandmate Amy Farina are doing on the new album as the duo the Evens: track after track of delicately written, yet still overtly charged political songs, complete with a hazy drawing of the Capitol building on the cover.
There are a few reasons we should trust these two: first off, both are vets of DC punk, so not only do they definitely know what the Capitol looks like in real life, but MacKaye’s involvement in Minor Threat and Fugazi basically defined what we’ve called the DC scene for about the past 25 years. Second, the band’s politics have nothing to do with in-vogue Bush bashing, but rather, delineating the whole miserable state of things in general. Just as on last year’s debut, where they took on less popular topics like incompetent state government (‘All These Governors’) and neighborhood decay (‘Mt. Pleasant Isn’t’), this round has them discussing total Republican control of Washington (‘Everybody Knows’) and the federal budget (‘No Money’).
How exactly the two of them get away with not sounding preachy is hard to pin down, but it probably has something to do with the fact that MacKaye and Farina are both incredibly talented musicians. If MacKaye has proven one thing over the course of his marathon career, it’s that he can write a solid melody even if his band is doing some kind of chaotic freakout behind him. The Evens, however, are limited to the subdued formula of the two vocalists, drums, and a lone baritone guitar. In fact, this is what makes their politics so welcome: for once, a little subtlety.