OFF! – OFF! (Vice Records)


I’ve had conflicting feelings about OFF! ever since they debuted with First Four EPs in 2011. On paper the idea of Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) revisiting his hardcore roots is exciting. The current cultural climate in America is screaming out for a caustic voice to throw a middle finger high in the air, and Morris, along with Dmitri Coats (Burning Brides), Stephen McDonald (Red Kross) and Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes) should be applauded for answering the call with a batch of venomous polemics aimed at everyone and everything. However, it’s hard to fully endorse a band so hell-bent on recreating the sound of early-Black Flag. Dmitri Coats uses Greg Ginn’s style and tone throughout the album’s 16-minute runtime, album opener “Wiped Out” is uncomfortably close to Black Flag’s 1978 debut single “Nervous Breakdown”, and Morris quotes “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You” at the end of “I’ve Got News For You”. Raymond Pettibon even does the cover-art, which makes it all but impossible not to be consumed by thoughts of Black Flag when listening to OFF! Being inspired by Black Flag is a great thing, but replicating their sound and vibe is another, and given the choice, I’ll choose the original every time. Even if you disregard their Flag-ness, OFF!’s songs aren’t as good as the best of the original hardcore movement, which is what matters most. Morris’ voice has become a lot harsher in the past 30+ years, so the angrier he gets – like on “King Kong Brigade” – the more you wish he’d stop tape and take a drink of water to clear up his throat. The band often come up short too, slinging straight-forward chords which fall squarely into already well-defined notions of hardcore punk, rather than developing something new they can call their own. I’m curious to see how long OFF! can continue under this revivalist model. Will they still be happy playing 45-second hardcore songs five years from now or will they branch out in different directions the same way hardcore bands did in the ’80s once they felt trapped by the genre? Mostly, OFF! makes me wonder where all the pissed off teenagers of today are. They’re the ones who should be making this kind of music, and they’ve been disturbingly silent.

Tracklist:

01 Wiped Out
02 I Got News For You
03 Elimination
04 Cracked
05 Wrong
06 Borrow and Bomb
07 Toxic Box
08 Man From Nowhere
09 Jet Black Girls
10 King Kong Brigade
11 Harbor Freeway Blues
12 Feelings Are Meant to Be Hurt
13 Vaporized
14 503
15 Zero for Conduct
16 I Need One (I Want One)

Off! – First Four EPs (Vice Records)


I usually don’t like bands with punctuation in their name, but I’ll make an exception for Off!, the new group teaming Keith Morris (Black Flag/Circle Jerks) with members of Redd Kross, Burning Brides and Rocket From The Crypt to revisit their late-70s hardcore punk roots. Heck, they even roped in Black Flag cover designer Raymond Pettibon to do their artwork! Their debut album is a collection of sixteen songs from their first four EPs, which zip by in a lightning-quick eighteen-minute rush of riffs and paranoia. Morris’ voice is rougher than it was thirty years ago, but when you’re yelling through a 63-second song called “Panic Attack” does it matter all that much? As great as this stuff is, you can’t turn back the clock on progress, and this feels like a musical version of a Civil War battle recreation. Still, Off! are a reminder to an increasingly pop-friendly “alternative” scene of just how important the initial wave of hardcore punk was in breaking down doors and creating an ethos of freedom and rebellion which is ignored far too often these days. For that, you have to stand up and salute them.