With the hiatus of Fugazi, lead singer Ian MacKaye found himself with some spare time and decided to make a left turn stylistically into stripped-down pop, or at least music as poppy as a post-punk pioneer can get. Collaborating with Warmers alum Amy Farina, MacKaye went into the studio with longtime Dischord resident engineer Don Zientara during the summer of 2004, a time ripe with political tension, discourse, and a hotly contested presidential election campaign. The fire, discontent, and mistrust of systems political and otherwise that were the hallmark of MacKaye's nearly two-decade tenure as dean of D.C. anger remain firmly entrenched in the Evens' carefully crafted 12-song eponymous debut. But in place of his trademark growl and yell, which could lift the strongest of houses off its foundation, MacKaye provides quiet, contemplative harmonies only hinted at briefly in latter-day Fugazi material (check "I'm So Tired" from Instrument and "Pink Frosty" on End Hits for solid reference points) to reinforce the somber sobriety and dire exasperation of his political frustrations. The lyrics are some of the most straightforward and politically caustic of MacKaye's career, packing a punch equal to some of his most visceral moments in Minor Threat. But that's not to shine the spotlight solely on MacKaye, for the group would be a half-hearted solo project if it weren't for Farina's velvet harmonies, her call-and-response interplay with MacKaye that dominates the album, and her sharing of lead vocal duties. MacKaye often used the quiet and low volumes of Fugazi to carry just as much weight as the loud and harsh, and over the decade honed the practice to near perfection. This practice is not the exception but the norm; this is in no small part due to Farina's exceptional percussion skills. She never overplays and calls only for what the compositions need, accentuating empty spaces and providing a heavy weight that even the most piercing wall of noise and feedback couldn't accomplish. It might not be the long-overdue Fugazi album that the most vigilant of chain wallet-carrying fanboys and aging alterna-teens were looking for, and that's a good thing. Most of these songs could never have bloomed to full fruition under the tight quality control of four people. With this project, MacKaye is free to swim in personally uncharted musical waters, and has the ideal swimming buddy along for the ride. The Evens is not just a step forward in the creative careers of MacKaye and Farina; it's a major leap.