Dischord Records: 25 Essential Tracks

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best Dischord Tracks

D.C. will do that to you

Smart Went CrazySmart Went Crazy – “D.C. Will Do That to You”
from Con Art (1997)

Post-hardcore innovators Smart Went Crazy combined harsh messages and performances with Beatles-like pop-melodic innovation and “DC Will Do That To You” might just be their finest moment. Chad Clark (who would later front Beauty Pill) begins the track by describing a common metropolitan scene: a casual meeting of an everyday citizen and person in need of help. Clark leaves things vague on purpose—we’re not sure who this person is, what their background is, or even what they’re asking for—and uses the loose story to raise some jarring questions over two minutes of gritty, stop-and-go punk riffs: “Do you own his hunger?… Did you help him out?” – ATB

best Dischord tracks LungfishLungfish – “Ann the Word”
from Artificial Horizon (1998)

“Ann the Word” is more meditation than song; a swirling, drowsy call and response of “This is the last song I sung” with various answers to that phrase interjected throughout. It contains one circular chord progression. It lasts five minutes and none of the parts never really change. In other words, “Ann the Word” really shouldn’t work, or at least shouldn’t be nearly as engaging as it is. But somehow Lungfish pull it off. Maybe it’s Daniel Higgs’ infectious, raspy baritone. Maybe it’s the tiny nuances in how the playing builds over time. Or maybe it’s just the way lines like “I wore amphibian skin” or “the world vanished in a gentle breeze” carve their way into your skull and stay there forever. Whatever it is that makes it work, “Ann The Word” is a one-of-a-kind post-hardcore track and some of Lungfish’s best work to date. – ATB

best Dischord tracks FaraquetFaraquet – “Cut Self Not”
from The View from This Tower (2000)

To get an idea of just how much talent moved through Dischord throughout the years (and the fairly incestuous nature of the Washington, D.C. music community), just look at Faraquet. Arguably one of the most technical of the bands on the roster, their songs were built around tricky time signatures and and polyrhythmic juxtapositions, with a fair amount of dexterous instrumentation between the three of them. But before this band, guitarist and vocalist Devin Ocampo was Smart Went Crazy’s drummer, which shows how well equipped they were to rock under any circumstance. “Cut Self Not” is where Faraquet’s sense of technical skill meets their excellent instincts for hooks, with Jehu-like riffs that hit like blocks of concrete and dizzying staircases of intertwining guitar and basslines during the melody. You can say Faraquet’s a punk band, but everything is locked in to perfection. It’s complicated. – JT

best Dischord tracks Q and Not UQ and Not U – “Soft Pyramids”
from Different Damage (2002)

No band on Dischord’s roster evolved as dramatically and as quickly as Q and Not U. A punk band on their debut and a funk band before their breakup, Q and Not U hit their innovative stride in the middle with 2002’s Different Damage, showcasing a more minimal groove and a healthy respect for space. “Soft Pyramids” is hands down their most sublime moment, a dub-punk lullaby that’s danceable while riding an eerie, skeletal memory and a weird choral chant that spells out the song’s title phrase: “S-O-F T-P-Y R-A-M I-D-S E-V-A P-O-R A-T-E/At daylight…” What does it mean? No idea. But not dancing isn’t an option. – JT

best Dischord tracks Black EyesBlack Eyes – “Deformative”
from Black Eyes (2003)

Black Eyes are a bit more on the dance-punk spectrum than the majority of Dischord artists, albeit in the way DNA or James Chance & the Contortions were “danceable”. They’re also a lot more unconventional and unhinged to begin with, complete with weird guitar noises, feedbac, and a strong rhythmic center in their TWO bassists and TWO drummers. (It, apparently, made for a pretty otherworldly live show. So much envy.) That sounds like it doesn’t make for much accessibility, and yet “Deformative” almost feels like a pop song. Katie Alice Greer of the D.C. band Priests said it best when she wrote it “has almost a cheerleading riot grrl vibe to it, the way they’re chanting the lyrics.” (And, by the way, the song is pretty clearly about pedophilia in the Church, if you read between the lines—or the comments.) – BB

best Dischord tracks EvensThe Evens – “All These Governors”
from The Evens (2005)

“Generally I don’t speak ill of the dead. However, I may make an exception in this case,” a middle-aged Ian MacKaye utters before bursting into a soft-but-energetic line on baritone guitar. Then The Evens’ other half—co-writer, co-founder and drummer Amy Farina—comes in with a trance-like rhythm. That’s when things really kick off. MacKaye’s post-Fugazi project might lack the noisy tension he was once known for, but it’s also his most explicitly political project to date, in both songwriting and constitution. Farina and MacKaye are life-partners as well as bandmates and have gotten involved with political conversations in D.C. surrounding issues that relate to the music scene, DIY spaces and Dischord, so it makes sense that all that work would manifest into a song like “All These Governors.” “When things should work but don’t work, that’s the work of all these governors” they croon in repetition before stumbling upon one solid epiphany: If we want to get anything done in the sociopolitical space, we’re best off just doing that work on our own. – ATB

best Dischord tracks Soccer TeamSoccer Team – “So You Like It Vague, Huh?”
from Volunteered Civility & Professionalism (2006)

Self-described as an “unpopular band from Washington, D.C.”, Soccer Team have released material sporadically over the past decade, their material more nuanced and atmospheric than the forceful, abrasive punk that characterized the label’s earliest material. Sung by Ryan Nelson, also of Beauty Pill, “So You Like It Vague, Huh?” is a showcase of their accessible abstraction. As the opener of the band’s debut, Volunteered Civility & Professionalism, it’s a winking introduction to their sketch-like songwriting style, its one-minute-and-change progression ending almost as soon as it gets off the ground. But the seeds of something compelling are there, in its stark, dreamy melody. – JT

best Dischord tracks AntelopeAntelope – “Reflector”
from Reflector (2007)

Back in college, I used to host a post-hardcore/noise rock radio show called “Manic Compression.” As a Dischord release, Reflector got quite a bit of airplay. However, it didn’t really occur to me at the time that it didn’t exactly fit in with everything else I was playing on the show. The main connection, it seemed, was that Ian MacKaye liked it enough to put it out on Dischord. (Also, the band’s lead vocalist/guitarist, Justin Moyer, played in El Guapo.) Now, the band’s final album, Reflector, is not total dance-punk—it does still has a strong post-punk influence, which is heard especially in the funky basslines, almost constantly deviating from the main guitar riff. The title track which opens the album is almost effervescent, with a starry-eyed, sun-baked bliss that is miles away from the more cynical and moody progenitors of the post-punk genre. And Moyer’s voice serenades my soul with sweet nothings—literally, the lyrics appear to be mostly opaque bullshit—that make me feel like the most content motherfucker in the universe. Optimism has never been so goddamn refreshing.- BB

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