When singer Keith Morris was starting work on a new album with Circle Jerks, the seminal hardcore band he formed after leaving the even more seminal Black Flag, he soon realised that he got on much better with his producer than his current bandmates. Never one to stick with a band when things aren’t running smoothly, Morris decided to put the Jerks’ record on hold and have some fun with his new writing partner, Dimitri Coats (ex-Burning Brides). The resulting band, OFF!, penned two dozen songs in as many days and released them on a handful of 7” EPs that had fans of Californian punk rock frothing at the mouth like rabid Dobermans.
The first full-length album by the four industry veterans is far removed from the grungy alt-rock of Burning Brides, the sax-infused singalong punk rock of Rocket From the Crypt or the taut post-hardcore of Hot Snakes (both of which OFF! drummer Mario Rubalcaba played in). In fact, the record it is closest to aurally is Black Flag’s Nervous Breakdown EP, released way back in 1978 (!). Which will be fine by Morris, who has stated that he is basically using OFF! to re-live his Black Flag glory days.
That’s not to say that the music sounds dated – in fact, OFF! hit harder than every single one of those younger, more feted punk bands such as Trash Talk – just that it is very much Morris’ baby, as opposed to a classic supergroup where all members get equal billing.
Morris snarls, brays and screeches his way through lyrics that, despite sounding like they were written on the recording studio’s loo roll, carry that sense of intense neuroticism and anger that Black Flag fans will recognise in the same way U2 fans presumably react when they hear another band use a delay pedal (ie with a sigh of pleasure). A huge shout-out has to be given to Dimitri Coats, whose precise bar chord attacks and dissonant riffs add to the thrilling sensation of songs like the straight-up punk exercise ‘Wiped Out’ and the more twisted, threatening ‘Jet Black Girl’.
The main feeling conveyed by this record is one of sheer, unbridled excitement of re-discovery – a renewed appreciation of the music you grew up with, of producing, of creating, of fucking about just to see what happens; an appreciation that is so much deeper now your hair starts growing in funny places and you don’t qualify for a student train ticket any longer. Essential, empowering, nostalgia-free escapism.