In the great debate over the warring Black Flag factions, embarking on parallel “reunion” tours while engaging in a rights battle over use of the name, the real winner was OFF! That’s an indirect endorsement of the Keith Morris-fronted FLAG, sure, but OFF!—which originally featured Morris, Burning Brides guitarist Dmitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steve McDonald and Hot Snakes drummer Mario Rubalcaba—took the agitation and urgency of a record like Black Flag’s Damaged and made something new of it. Short, potent, agitated and alive, the songs on their 2010 debut, First Four EPs, reclaimed an early vision of hardcore punk with its core still intact but with a recharged ability to invigorate and get under a listener’s skin in the best ways. It also featured a comfortingly confrontational sight for Black Flag fans on its cover: Artwork by Raymond Pettibon, who since the ’80s has had his differences with that band’s founder Greg Ginn.
In 2022, OFF! has officially been around longer than Black Flag was before taking a nearly 30-year hiatus from recording, and since then they’ve undergone some changes. Last year both Rubalcaba and McDonald exited the band—the former voluntarily, the latter perhaps less so—with new members Justin Brown (Thundercat, Herbie Hancock) and Autry Fulbright II (…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) entering the fold. The group have also been working on their debut feature film, Free LSD, of which their new album of the same name is a companion piece. True to its name, it’s an otherworldly and hallucinogenic piece of work, a blazing and blistering set of songs that finds hardcore merging with cosmic psychedelia in ways we haven’t heard since MC5 covered Sun Ra.
Free LSD very nearly sounds like a different band entirely, not a scrappy group of old-school punk rock vets but a macro-dosing stoner rock outfit with Sleep-sized riffs and the good sense to leave space for buzzing synthesizers and piercing free-jazz saxophone to cut through the din. Its opening track “Slice of the Pie” is perhaps the least drastic diversion away from the roots from which the group sprang, Morris barking screeds against greed and capitalism in a fiery surge of two-minute hardcore. From there the band chucks the template entirely, with “Time Will Come” ushering in a more explicit portrait of their sci-fi saga, their method of delivery more …Trail of Dead post-hardcore prog—with blast beats—than power-chord punching bag. It then segues into the 79-second “F,” a saxophone solo that bridges the cosmic chasm into chaotic ripper “Invisible Empire.”
By the arrival of the tremolo-picked leads and theremin outro of track five, “Circuitry’s Guide,” Free LSD has more than revealed itself as the weirdest entry in OFF!’s catalog. Here, weird isn’t just good, it’s revelatory—perception shattering. The skeleton of no-frills hardcore remains beneath the brilliant finery they’ve woven around it, but at times it’s hard not to be dazzled by the sheer ambition of their creation. As a soundtrack to a film we’ve yet to experience, it contains more than its share of cinematic experiences and more than a few otherworldly ones as well. On a record titled Free LSD, that’s bound to happen.
Label: Fat Possum
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.