By Russell Warfield
It might sound paradoxical, but sixteen songs in sixteen minutes is a lot to take in. Press play – fucking hell - done. People talk about appreciating albums which they can fit into the time it takes to commute to work. You can nail this one on a coffee break. Twice. Of course, if you’ve any prior familiarity with Keith Morris’ work as part of Off! – or either of his previous seminal punkrock outfits Black Flag and Circle Jerks – you won’t be too surprised by this news. Off!’s debut LP is largely what you’d expect this pack of hardcore veterans’ debut LP to sound like: sixteen more gut-punches of exactly what came before it. Razor sharp riffs of choppy powerchords, super-tight drum patterns with a dangerous amount of fills-per-bar, searing five-second guitar solos, and Morris’ unmistakable vocal growling and snarling and spitting – all packed into tightly controlled explosions of thirty to sixty seconds. Hardcore punk exactly like they made it in the eighties.
Indeed, the most marked difference between Morris’ work with Off! and Morris’ work with Black Flag and Circle Jerks is simply context. This record works from identical blueprints to those Morris was working off – those he helped to invent – almost forty years ago; unmistakably the work of a hardcore supergroup who have this stuff running through their veins. Instead, one of the most striking things about this record is how much it stands out in the 2012 nu-media landscape.
Without descending into the haggard punk-is-dead non-issue, it’s certainly true to say that almost nobody of prominence is making this stuff anymore, at least not reviving it in this perfectly preserved state. And to look at the video for ‘Wiped Out’, there’s undoubtedly – as much as it pains me to admit it – a slightly old-generation rather than old-school feel to the thing: the band (Morris is pushing sixty, don’t forget) quite self consciously acting their performance for the camera, while half hearted extras (all teenagers, some kissing) amble around a pit, badly interspersed with skate bails and surf wipeouts. (Y’know, because the chorus goes ‘I’m wiped out!’).
But if Off! are guilty of being slightly out of touch (and that’s a real Devil’s Advocate ‘if’) it means they’re innocent of the most cardinal of punkrock sins: fakery. Seemingly unconcerned with popularity, Off! refuse to pseudo-update themselves to pander to the taste-makers and hipster-bloggers. They’re doing exactly what they’ve always done – exactly what they want - and if what they’re putting out resonates with with the hype-machine, it’s partly because of present day journalism’s fetish for nostalgia, but mainly because (and here’s the zinger) this thing fucking blisters, packing in far more nuanced flourishes of energy and intensity into its sixty second bombasts than meets the ear on first listen.
Check out the awesome little ascending riff escalating the bridge (if a two-second passage can be called a bridge) of ‘I’ve Got News For You’, and the closing little guitar flourish that shoots it down in a blaze. All in forty seconds or so. The closing moment of this record sees Morris feeding off the frenzied energy of ‘I Need One I Want One’ – and the cumulative momentum of the fifteen rampages before it – with a seemingly spontaneous ‘YEEEEAHH!’ If after a lifetime on the scene Off! can still get their energy from on-the-nose second wave punk rock, then dammit so can I.