Justin Moyer’s latest band, E.D. Sedgwick, is essentially the refinement of a digression from another digression, but that’s probably the only way the always-thinking D.C. music-maker was going to get anywhere. The first digression was Edie Sedgwick, the celebrity-fried, electro-diva persona Moyer cooked up more than a decade ago while playing art punk in El Guapo. Moyer eventually reassigned the Sedgwick name to a four-piece band, which made a debut of sorts on 2011’s satisfying Love Gets Lovelier Every Day. The follow-up, We Wear White, locks down those aesthetics and answers a lot of questions.
First, Moyer appears committed to Sedgwick’s existence as a band and not just an identity. Second, he’s obviously been suppressing or subverting some serious rock tendencies during his time as a Dischord Records guy. And third, beneath all the vocal snottiness and onstage schtick that he’s deployed over the years, there are a few themes that truly matter to him: sexual psychology (“Mina,” “Hex of Sex,” “He’s the One”), urban socioeconomics (“Rockin’ the Boat,” which knocks D.C. flag tattoos), the weight of nostalgia (“DNA”), and the perks of religion (“We Wear White”).
The best part about We Wear White, though, is how emphatic E.D. Sedgwick sounds. The rhythm section of drummer Jess Matthews and bassist Kristina Buddenhagen continues to tighten; Moyer’s guitar playing—now ballsier and bluesier—crackles with life; and the band’s other vocalist, JosaFeen Wells, fully grows into her role as the soulful counterpoint to Moyer’s smarty-pants, joke-inclined, and hip-hop-damaged presence (he’s not above a Wu-Tang reference). The production—recorded and mastered by T.J. Lipple at Arlington’s Inner Ear and mixed by Phil Manley (Trans Am) in San Francisco—is bright, too.
“Dirty” opens the album with a sneer (“Y’all ain’t shit to me/I got positivity”), and 32 minutes later “Weatherman” closes it with a bang (more on that later). Halfway through, Moyer busts out a ballad—the title track—that masterfully combines half-baked “born again” posturing with Pixies-flavored weirdness. Overall, the rock factor on We Wear White puts a lot of things in context: Moyer’s big, tricky essay in Washington City Paper this summer about the “Brooklynization” of indie culture now looks less like a thoughtful-but-cranky takedown and more like self-liberation from an era in which everybody, including some of Moyer’s own bands, seemed to be playing catch-up to New York.
In particular, “Weatherman”—with its high-energy guitar, bass, and drums by Bob Doto of SPRCSS, a group that Moyer helped revive in 2007—handles the topic with more humor than Moyer’s City Paper essay. “We need some new shit/To kill this old shit,” Moyer cries in the chorus, but the verses are where he really skewers the endless, placeless, confounding, Internet-fueled remixing of content: “And fuck your shitty techno/And fuck your OK techno...And fuck your bad pornography/But I like your good pornography,” he sings tensely, as the women in the band reply, “It smells like shit to me!”
Moyer doesn’t have enough hubris to prescribe precise solutions, but We Wear White is a sufficient show of strength, for now. Although it might not be able to carry an entire city or a subculture on its back, it’s much more than just a tangent, an experiment, or a lark.
E.D. Sedgwick plays Nov. 17 at La Casa, 3177 Mount Pleasant St. NW.
The Odds The Evens Dischord
The Odds is the third album by The Evens, and like the two that came before, it’s got little to hide. The D.C. duo’s point of view hasn’t shifted much in the six-year interim: It still makes economical punk rock (baritone guitar, drums, vocals) with lyrics that start at home and glare outward skeptically. Guitarist/singer Ian MacKaye and drummer/singer Amy Farina firmly implemented the template when they decided they could be a band, and it still holds up.
They’re parents together now, and if that reality has altered the mission, it’s hard to measure on The Odds. Even the song “Broken Finger,” which could be about welcoming a new life into the world, is dark and dramatic in a familiar, Fugazi kind of way, even with Farina handling the bulk of the vocals. She belts out lines such as “Punctured inside/Out of your envelope/Enter pliant/Knowing in the unknown” as if any pain was hers to share. It’s hardly tender, and it’s very Evens. Later in the album, “This Other Thing” hits a similar lyrical vein, but with sunnier, more indie-pop-influenced sonics.
If anything, the album puts a lid on the idea that The Evens need to add more sounds to their simple setup. It was easy to approach 2005’s The Evens and 2006’s Get Evens with the feeling that the tunes would’ve benefited from a big, sustained chord here or a fat bassline there. It’s probably best to ditch those ideas, though; ultimately, The Evens are interesting because of the boundaries they set for themselves. The new instrumentals “Wonder Why” and “KOK” are quintessential: He bears down on the baritone guitar with his familiarly aggressive rhythms; she responds with confident, swinging snare hits, understated rolls, and room-filling cymbal crashes. Together the pair has a singular balance of energy and control.
A few moments on The Odds do qualify as subtle sonic departures: “I Do Myself,” an oblique commentary on humankind’s modern motivations, has a slyly languid pace and some coolly careful vocals by MacKaye; “Competing With the Till,” about the economics of performing in bars, has strong currents of tropicália; and the mini-epic “Timothy Wright,” which may or may not be about the late gospel singer, patiently and almost sweetly asks existential questions. (Its last line: “But it really doesn’t matter now!”)
The lyrics sheet, meanwhile, has a handful of classic MacKaye lines. “Wanted Criminals” continues his critique of the homeland-security era, with a focus on the underlying politics: “People need something to do, they’re getting angry/The bosses came up with a hell of a plan/A security job for each and every man.” And during the somewhat buoyant “Let’s Get Well,” he adds a dash of punk-frontman nihilism: “Shaped by shapers or shaped to spite them/We all end up on the cutting board.”
Those spurts are when it’s easiest to size up how long MacKaye might want to keep making music in this mode. Things might be quieter, but he can be heard better. There’s less hollering, but he definitely sounds like himself. And for a punk who’s now in his 50s and still wants to set the right example, sustainability takes on new dimensions of meaning.