When OFF! collected their first handful of 7” singles onto 2010’s The Four EPs, they perhaps unknowingly proved that hardcore’s ideals were timeless and regenerative—at least as much as those of SoCal pop or Laurel Canyon folk. Led by former Circle Jerk frontman Keith Morris, he of the immense dreadlock, the band of L.A. punk vets pared punk down to its very basics: rambunctious double-time guitar riffs, angrily accusatory lyrics and half-shouted (two-thirds-shouted?) vocals.
All furious momentum and bird-flipping hostility, the songs took only about a minute to unpack, leaving no room for niceties or nuance. And yet, such austerity sounded positively abrasive: OFF! are traditionalists, but they view hardcore as something essentially fun, which makes them the perfect antidote to the self-serious dinner-theater punk of Green Day.
The band’s first proper album doesn’t have quite the same impact as The Four EPs, but only because we’re already been hit over the head with that particular skateboard. Fortunately, they’re still pushing energy and concision: OFF! is 16 songs in 16 white-knuckle minutes. The band thrives under such strict confines, and the album picks up considerable speed on the second eight minutes, when Dmitri Coats’ riffs take on more characters and Morris’ shouted proclamations sound positively catchy.
Apocalyptic fears propel these songs, as Morris worries over the Four Horsemen (“Toxic Box”), American foreign policy (“Borrow and Bomb”), double-talking politicians (“Elimination”) and anyone who might dare ask him to conform (“Wrong”). Occasionally he comes across as curmudgeonly, so his finger-wagging lectures on “Cracked” and “Zero for Conduct” reveal his age and his purist leanings, as though punk were the province of oldsters.
And yet, besides the fact that Morris is nearly 60 and still keeping up with punks one-third his age, what’s remarkable about OFF! is that they never sound nostalgic. They’re more concerned about 2012 than 1982, so instead of coming across as a remarketing of a particular sound or scene, they represent a persuasive argument in favor of gloriously arrested development.