Release Date: Apr 8, 2014
Record label: Vice Records
If you are in any way interested in punk music, you’re sure to have caught the Black Flag/FLAG debacle that hardcore godhead Greg Ginn instigated last year. He basically sued his former bandmates in FLAG (and, for some reason, Henry Rollins, who has nothing to do with either incarnation) to gain complete control of the brand ‘Black Flag’. Ginn is notorious amongst the bands he’s released on his seminal label SST.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. On their third collection, the veteran SoCal hardcore revivalists continue to do exactly what they've already done. Keith Morris rages against society in the tone of a man who could get furious at a bed of blooming daffodils; Dimitri Coats hammers the riffs furiously, and the rhythm section of Steven McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba power the whole thing along.
It's tempting to wonder what was going on with Keith Morris from 1995, when the Circle Jerks released the less than remarkable Oddities, Abnormalities, and Curiosities, and 2009, when he helped form OFF! from the wreckage of an unfinished Circle Jerks album, because even though he worked on a variety of projects during that period, there was little to suggest the guy still had it in him to lead a great band. But once OFF! began playing and recording in 2010, it was obvious Morris had gained a second wind and was delivering some of the strongest, most unhinged work of his career. 2014's Wasted Years is OFF!'s second proper album, and like their self-titled debut (and the EP collection that preceded it), this thing goes off like an M-80, with Morris laying out some of his sharpest and most articulate rage, filtered through lyrics that are smarter and more severe than what he usually tossed out in his days with Black Flag or the Circle Jerks, good as they both could be.
Even for OFF!, a band gleefully bobbing within its sardonic sludge of outspoken lyrics, barking vocals and a raucous musical flurry, Wasted Years is bleak and foreboding. Singer Keith Morris has led a tumultuous public life in recent years, taking a break from the efficient and seemingly magnanimous OFF! to found the band FLAG with other disgruntled former members of hardcore heroes Black Flag. The venture conjured a whole lot of spite when Black Flag founder Greg Ginn set legal proceedings in motion against FLAG, essentially spraying fuel over the already perpetually pissed off Morris.
Punk would be neutered without anarchy, but there’s a comfort that comes with Keith Morris’s reliably taut and—dare we say it—structured crew. The band, which has featured 16 songs and Raymond Pettibon artwork on every album, managed to keep the self-recorded Wasted Years crisp and orderly without editing any of the performances. The clean sound is especially remarkable given that the sucker was documented live to eight-track half-inch tape.
It starts with one quizzical sound. With a pluck of a string, Steven McDonald’s bass vibrates with fraught tension, its reverb left to linger alone for an extra second or two before the rest of his bandmates in OFF! spring back into form on “Void You Out”. So begins Wasted Years, the 16-track third LP from the punk lifers, who between them boast past or current membership in Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Redd Kross, Burning Brides, and Rocket from the Crypt, among others.
Flying the flag for old school hardcore, the third ‘Off!’ album is a gleefully relentless thrashabout made up of 16 knee-in-the-nuts mini-ragers, each largely indiscernible from the last, all hanging insolently around the one and a half minute mark. At 2:15, ‘Hypnotized’ is pretty much a five-part symphony, featuring 58-year-old Keith Morris spitting out his distain for authority, much as he has done for the past 35 years. “You can’t argue with the troops/or the cops in riot suits”, yells the former Circle Jerks and Black Flag frontman.
OFF!'s First Four EPs appeared seemingly out of nowhere in 2010, with a bunch of Raymond Pettibon artwork and Keith Morris letting loose some of the best screams he'd ever committed to record. OFF! were full of life, and they were boiling hardcore down to its most essential elements—Morris' wide-eyed vocal performance, lyrics that cut directly to the point, guitarist Dimitri Coats' intimidation and muscle, and an abrupt halt at the moment the song ended. They possess the ability to economize without even sounding like they're trying, and although listening to the collection's physical edition forced you to get off your ass every couple of minutes to throw on the next 7", it was worth the effort.
"Keith Morris and pals bosh out 16 tracks of terse, no-frills hardcore malarkey that makes like the last 30 years never happened." f last year’s Black Flag resurrection was a perfect example as to just why old punx should let sleeping corpses lie then this full-length from the similarly aged OFF! at least serves as a part-way antidote. Keith Morris (Circle Jerks / Black Flag) and pals bosh out 16 tracks of terse, no-frills hardcore malarkey that makes like the last 30 years never happened. Almost, anyway, since it’s nowhere near as hot as the real prime stuff the early ’80s gave us (Poison Idea, Void, Tar Babies, that sort of thing) and still lags behind the young ‘uns who’re keeping the genre fresh and vital.
There’s plenty of well-placed blame to be thrown around for the perpetual cheapening of punk rock, with the most egregious commercialization and bastardization happening mostly from within, not without. And really, so what? Punk rock problems, after all, are tedious, with ideals, dogmas and idioms clogging up the works over the decades like so much impacted waste. Once earnest sloganeering like “Punk Is Dead” became the stuff of monetized Buzzfeed lists, spinal-tapping a subculture too bored to notice how much it already gave up.
Anthony Kiedis’ favourite punx are back, dreadlocks flailing in the wind, with this, their second studio full length record. Mind you, to say “They’re back” feels a bit weird; after all, OFF! are something of a supergroup, featuring as they do a bloke who used to be in Black Flag and the dude who bangs the drums in Rocket From The Crypt.What we’re presented with on ‘Wasted Years’ is 16 slices of ramshackle garage punk with its beating 80s heart worn well and truly on its sleeve. From the kicking, spitting fury of ‘Void You Out’ to the, er… kicking, spitting fury of ‘Exorcised’ only one of these songs breaks the two minute barrier and the whole thing feels like a perpetual boot in the head.
The sound and attitude of punk have been reduced to rock bands wearing Dead Kennedy T-shirts at fashion shoots. Thankfully, Off! continues its revival of hard-core punk with a gloriously intense third full-length record. The band, a supergroup of veterans from various defunct groups including the Circle Jerks and Rocket From the Crypt, surges through 16 short, uncompromising songs recorded live with the kind of urgency that recalls the best of the Minutemen and early Black Flag.
Early into Wasted Years' 16 songs in 23 minutes, Keith Morris snarls, "Angry for the rest of your life/ There's no easy escape." That's every note decimated by the L.A. foursome during five years of hardcore protest. Behind the nearly 60-year-old dynamo at the mic, frothing at the mouth since founding stints in Black Flag and Circle Jerks, an all-star ensemble goes Off!: guitarist/producer Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), bassist Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), and drum locomotive Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt, Earthless).
“I won’t be a casualty,” screeches Keith Morris in the song of the same name—one of 16 punk uppercuts that appear on Wasted Years, the third album by Off!. The supergroup formed in 2009, and since then Morris and crew have done their best to resurrect a narrowly specific sound: namely the snot-caked, cage-rattling tirades of Morris’ output in the late ’70s and early ’80s with Black Flag and Circle Jerks. In that sense, Off! has once again succeeded.
When it comes to supergroups, the use of the word ‘super’ has been as questionable as its association with Superman Returns. For every good (The Traveling Wilburies, specifically Volume 1) there are ten bads (the Mick Jagger and Joss Stone featuring SuperHeavy, for one) and even more uglies (McBusted, anyone?). OFF!’s four members were already part of their own acts (all around the hardcore punk area), before forming in 2009 and recording their debut, self-titled album in three days in 2012.