The differences between the best punk rock albums and the worst garage band demos aren’t always that great. It’s a genre founded upon rawness, D.I.Y. expression and speed, and mostly keeps a simple and straightforward M.O. There are exceptions of course; nobody is likely to mistake Fucked Up’s The Chemistry of Common Life or Refused’s The Shape of Punk to Come for a homemade demo. But many of the best punk rock albums through the years, from Bad Brains’ self-titled first cassette to Black Flag’s Damaged, are merely collections of two-minute explosions of snarling energy. No frills, no bullshit.
Pulling off a truly amazing and stripped-down punk rock record without sounding stale beyond belief, however, takes the work of seasoned veterans. Enter OFF!, a Southern California foursome whose members résumés boast more punk rock cred than safety pin earrings and vegan zines at a Crass basement party. Fronted by ex-Circle Jerks and Black Flag screecher Keith Morris, OFF! is rounded out by Burning Brides’ Dimitri Coates, Redd Kross’ Steven McDonald and Earthless/Rocket From the Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba. And though the individual members’ past performances might suggest an album of somewhat more showy performances, there’s no noodling to be found on OFF!’s First Four EPs, a compilation collecting four seven-inch singles. Instead, the 16-song set is a lean and bilious rager, packed with power chord throwdowns and artful smart-assery.
Lining up 16 songs with an overall running time of about 17 minutes, First Four EPs finds OFF! doing anything but fucking around. From the opening chug of “Black Thoughts,” the band sets off on a path of pure punk rock destruction. In that very song, Morris wails, “I can’t stop thinking black thoughts!,” making the case for an old dude such as himself still convincingly selling the angst angle. And really, all of these guys are pretty advanced in age as far as punk rock goes. Still, song after song, they tear up each minute-long slice of destruction with unstoppable power and energy. And above all, they sound like they’re having a blast while playing them. At the very least, these songs are a whole lot of fun from a listener’s point of view.
OFF! plays classic hardcore punk, the way Morris and his L.A. peers intended the first time around. Hell, had I not been aware that this is a new set of music, I likely would have assumed it was an early-`80s Los Angeles punk relic. That this band can crank out the genuine article more than 30 years down the line is a testament to their abilities. Punk rock isn’t just something they do, it runs through their veins and seeps out their pores. Punk, apparently, isn’t dead, and in the hands of OFF! sounds more vital than ever.
Black Flag – Damaged
Bad Brains – Bad Brains
Circle Jerks – Golden Shower of Hits