Over the years it’s become increasingly evident that their are some cassettes that it’s next to impossible to eject from a deck once they’ve completed their rotation- not because of technical difficulty but because of how good the record on the tape is. Stupid Bag Records have had a direct hand in quite a few of them (every Swearin’ tape, Acid Fast’s Rabid Moond, Dead Dog’s Precious Child, etc.) and recently, one of their releases possessing that insane amount of gravitational pull was given an LP release over at the always-outstanding Mandible Records: Even Hand’s self-titled full-length debut.
Even Hand boasts a sound that feels like it’d fit comfortably between both Sunny Day Real Estate and The Wrens at their respective peaks, without sacrificing an inch of their DIY punk roots, which is an impressive achievement, to say the least. In a small way, it makes them a sort of spiritual kin to Haunted Heads, even if Even Hand’s a little more wiry and more in line with the Steve Albini school of thought when it comes to presentation. That keen attention to detail is something that serves them well throughout the course of Even Hand and helps the record feel like an absolutely vital release.
Starting with a trio of songs that establishes both the band’s sound and the tone of the record, Even Hand wastes no time in commanding the listener’s attention. “Glacial Blue”, the record’s opening track, recalls a much more precise and mannered Parquet Courts without losing any of the nervy tension that dominates the kind of wry post-punk both bands traffic in. “The More It Shows” reveals the band’s just as comfortable delivering charged-up bruisers as they are at displaying raw nerve. “Your Wall” rounds out the opening blitz with a lilting melody and a slow-burning sonic template that’s indebted to the very best of emo’s golden era without being completely defined by that genre.
From there, Even Hand manages to steadily build it’s momentum while carving out new niche areas of all the genres that factor into what make them such an engaging band on record. While the furiously paced”Down the Lighted Strip” may be the record’s most definitive moment, it’s Even Hand‘s quietest moment that manages to stand out most. “Leaning Home” is the track in question and it arrives at roughly the 3/4’s mark of the record, providing bandleader Mike Borth an arresting solo moment. Everything goes quiet for “Leaning Home” and Borth makes the most of it, providing Even Hand with some of his sharpest guitar work and a set of lyrics that cuts deep by confronting familial conflict in a manner that feels intensely personal. It’s the record’s longest song (though it doesn’t feel like it) and earns every last second of its runtime.
Appropriately, it’s followed by an ambient stretch before “All Tenses All Time” kicks things back into overdrive and showcases the natural ability of Even Hand’s rhythm section, with Dominic Armao lending the record no shortage of propulsive bass line and drummer Dan Edelman providing a deeply impressive set of chops at a pace that frequently borders the manic. Both Armao and Edelman give the record a lot of its heart while Borth shapes it with an enviable sense of personality. All three pull out a variety of stops for the closing track, “I’m Not Concerned”, giving listeners one final reminder of what each is capable of on their own- and what the band’s capable of as a collective. “I’m Not Concerned” winds up being an appropriate final highlight on a record littered with other ones- and when it’s over, all that’s really left to do is let it play itself over again. Even Hand is a record that deserves to be heard- as many times as possible.