Album Review: OFF! – Wasted Years

Even without all Black Flag related nonsense that’s been happening on and off for two years, Keith Morris has recently enjoyed a compelling and visceral return to the spotlight. He hosted his own punk station on the new Grand Theft Auto game and has returned to present tense conversation for all the right reasons. Mostly, this comes in the form of OFF!, his punk supergroup that has a knack for 90 second tunes and throwing up middle fingers in every musical and lyrical way possible. Morris is joined by Redd Kross’s Stephen Shane McDonald, Dmitri Coats of Burning Brides, and drummer Mario Rubalcaba, who has been in and out of more great rock bands than you can count. Together, the four of them cast off all sense of radio accessibility for the most scorching punk group the modern world has seen in a decade. OFF! drop their second full length record this week, called Wasted Years, on VICE Records. With sixteen tracks, averaging out at just under a minute and a half each, Wasted Years is an unrelenting twenty-three minute masterpiece. 100% more continuous than their self-titled of 2012, and carrying more brutal aggression and fervor than anything they’ve put out prior, Wasted Years is a punk masterpiece, and makes a name for OFF! as an individual group, apart from any ties they had to other groups in (wasted) years past.

When OFF! released their first LP, the record we got was sixteen brutal minutes of face-melting punk mastery, but it lacked a true sense of direction or individualized purpose. In fact, if you listened to it on CD (avoiding the need to flip 7” singles over every two minutes), the flow of the record was almost indistinguishable from the spastic, segregated thoughts captured on the band’s 2010 debut First Four EP’s. If you had a shitty day and wanted someone somewhere to share your frustration with existence, OFF! was the record for you. But for Wasted Years, the band have dialed in on a central theme. Resisting the urge to yell at everyone ever all the time, Morris and his band have focused their bitterness towards a classic enemy of the punk mindset: those in power that abuse the power given to them.

Album opener “Void You Out” is a furious and scathing remark on US government treatment of native North American Indians and their history in this country. “Red White and Black” and “Legion of Evil” both point fingers at corruption and adverse incentive in the government, while Morris stands in the lobby, “a conscientious objector encouraging chaos”. “No Easy Escape” and “Over Our Heads” both call out a culture of violence filled with propaganda before trying to open the eyes of listeners to the fact that this society has “Hypnotized” them. The latter sees Morris doing some excellent work lyrically, working in twisted brand taglines and commonplace idioms, reworded for a military state real world dystopia. “It Didn’t Matter To Me” describes a Brave New World-esque sedation to avoid the problems of the world for which we are unaffected. But if all the politics is a lot to handle for you, don’t worry. Side A ends with the brilliant, face-melting tell off “Exorcised”, which pretty much anybody could relate to.

If Side A pulls the curtain back to condemn a decaying machine inside, then Side B grabs a wrench and starts tearing the thing to pieces. OFF! lead a reactionary parade down main street, flipping the individualistic, greed-centric, culture in which they find themselves on its head. “Dead Trip on the Party Train” and “I Won’t Be A Casualty” are a public service announcement that the fun and games are over. “All I Can Grab” severs every outreached consumerist hand begging for more affluence. Then, Morris puts on a cloak and plays the part of the reaper. “Time’s Not On Your Side” and “Meet Your God” both demand justice for those that have done wrong, while “Mr. Useless” and “You Must Be Damned” equally condemn those that stand on the sidelines of the battle.

At the end of “You Must Be Damned”, there are two full seconds of silence – that’s the biggest breath the listener gets on the whole record. But for the coda that the title track places at the end of Wasted Years, it’s worth inhaling and listening with a fresh ear. “Wasted Years” could be looking at the men on Capitol Hill like the rest of the record… or it might be looking at someone else entirely. Last year, we saw some pretty odd antics among the many past and present members of Black Flag. Morris, along with Chuck Dukowski and Bill Stevenson, formed FLAG last year to revisit original Black Flag repertoire (Morris left the band in 1979 to start Circle Jerks). Meanwhile, Greg Ginn and Ron Reyes remain in the zombie Black Flag that released What The… last year to almost universal disdain. And a year later, here we have Morris screaming along, “Anarchy, there’s no peace pipe – did what I had to do. Stuck in the past… What was done can’t be unbroken, counting off wasted years… You were never on my side”. With Wasted Years, Morris brings the punk mentality to the only place it has ever existed: the present tense. With a fired, focused, politically charged record that is as ferocious as it is indisputable, OFF! proves that Morris exists far removed from the pissing contest of his former contemporaries. And whether the closer is aimed at the aforementioned parties or the self-serving politicians skewered on the first 15 tracks, the message is clear: being given the power of microphone infers responsibility, and you’d be better use it well.

OFF! have created a terrifyingly good punk record that shows off brilliant lyrical work and complex and mind-boggling punk hooks with razor sharp cadences and rapid fire time changes. At 58, Keith Morris is at peak performance, and if he did it any better, he’d be possessed. If any of the Wasted Years at hand pertain to him, they are certainly not any of the ones we’ve seen recently. OFF! continue to astound and amaze with every glimpse we get at them, 90 seconds at a time.

Wasted Years is out this week on VICE Records. Grab it on CD and limited red vinyl at your local record store. OFF! will be bringing their madness to El Corazon on April 13. Tickets are available here.

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