Sixteen songs in 17 minutes. This is how Keith Morris, Dimitri Coats, Steve McDonald, and Mario Rubalcaba have chosen to truly expose the world to OFF! (after releasing their first EP in October), and in doing so, they have made nearly every other punk or hardcore album released in 2010 seem like overproduced, stodgy, overly serious affairs. They’re a band of punk and rock vets who have absolutely nothing to prove, having done so with a list of bands that includes Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, Burning Brides, Red Kross, and Hot Snakes, respectively. But while bands burdened with the term “supergroup” sometimes sound tentative at best playing with each other, the four musicians of OFF! exhibit a shockingly intense chemistry that belies the relatively short time they’ve spent as an active band cranking out this brand of throwback hardcore. It’s almost maddening how easy they make it sound.
One could argue that First Four EPs is not an album at all, and I guess they would be right, seeing as how it comes packaged in a box set of four 7-inch records, each sporting artwork by iconic Black Flag artist Raymond Pettibon. At the same time, this isn’t the kind of release that demands that kind of scrutiny. Whether you’re flipping the vinyl once or four times, OFF! delivers a consistent stream of blurred-hand guitar speed, bashing rhythm section madness, and the iconic shout of Morris, who although has aged physically, remains an absolute monster on the mic, alternating between slow-burning exhortations and scorching screams. A lot of his subject matter remains the same: panic attacks, social alienation, mental problems, and the chronicling of good/bad times.
There are moments scattered throughout this collection that indicate more depth and different directions that the band might go on future releases. “Jeffrey Lee Pierce” is a bouncy ode to the late Gun Club frontman, and actually stemmed from a songwriting session Morris had with Pierce when the two lived together. It reveals a more vulnerable Morris, while giving the rest of the band more opportunities to play with dynamics and rhythm. “Now I’m Pissed” thrusts and jabs its way through its taut, minute-long runtime, bringing added dimensions to a song that with a title like that, could easily have been another four-on-the-floor rager. Opener “Black Thoughts” is simply one of the best punk songs of 2010, switching between a major key beginning and a seething verse part, culminating in a skinned cat screech from Morris. Even when the songs aren’t musically complex, they’re always attention-grabbing and memorable.
OFF! was started by Morris and Coats from the wreckage of an aborted Circle Jerks recording session. If it takes the breakup of a seminal punk band to get Morris and company this fired up and inspired, then perhaps we should call for OFF!’s demise next, as it might just result in even better material. Until then, bask in the grimy glow of one of 2010’s least pretentious, most vital punk albums.