OFF!’s 2010 explosion into being was a cathartic act of frustration, a joining of musical talents slammed together by the acrimonious departure of vocalist/perpetual firebreather Keith Morris from yet another go at reviving the once-indispensable Circle Jerks. The music that poured out of this schism, compiled conveniently in the aptly titled First Four EPs, worked due to its visceral power: hardcore punk jams never reaching over two minutes, number of chords kept to a minimum, a muscular rhythm section, all topped with the in-the-red (yet still coherent) sneers and screams of Morris.
The wrecking crew’s first proper “full length,” the 16 track, 16 minute OFF! is in many ways the exact same album as its compilation predecessor. The formula described above is repeated almost to a tee. You could replace Morris’ vocal part on “Borrow and Bomb” with that of “Panic Attack” from First Four EPs and be forgiven for thinking they were the same song. Where OFF! rips itself out of re-hash purgatory is in the presentation. Here, Morris, guitarist Dimitri Coats, bassist Steven McDonald and drummer Mario Rubalcaba are playing as if they’re constantly on the verge of losing control of the entire venture. Songs that before would have stopped on a dime now skid into smears of noise capped by full-band slams. Coats lets loose solos on songs like “Wiped Out” and “Harbor City Blues” that sound like his guitar had just been doused in corrosive chemicals, and it’s his duty to wrestle the sounds that come out of it into being before it completely dissolves.
Somehow, everything sounds more pissed than before. At the end of closer “I Need One (I Want One),” Morris is left laughing before ripping into a genuinely terrifying “YEAH!” It’s an exclamation of victory, having made it through the 16 track onslaught in one piece. Lyrically, Morris remains in familiar territory while embarking on worthy diversions. For every moment he seems to back himself into the “fighting back against ambiguously identified forces” corner, he delivers moments like the speed-freak power trip “Man From Nowhere,” or the hilariously specific details of debauchery that pepper “Jet Black Girls.”
Much has been already this year about the sonic advancements made by punk rock bands like the Men, Ceremony, and Cloud Nothings, all bands who have moved beyond the sounds that attracted people to them in the first place. As exciting as these strides have been to witness, it’s relieving to have bands like OFF! around, to slam down the reset button and snap everyone back to position one with dispatches such as this. They act as a constant reminder of the power of music that isn’t afraid to be ugly, blunt, and confrontational. The timing of OFF!‘s arrival is immaculate.