OFF! – First Four EPs (Music Review)

First Four EPs cover

OFF! - First Four EPs

Who would’ve expected that the most vital-sounding supergroup in years would be a bunch of middle-aged hardcore musicians? OFF!, whose members come from bands such as Circle Jerks and Rocket From The Crypt, appeared out of nowhere in 2010 to release four EPs, each one squeezing four brutal songs into less than five minutes of playing time. Those are all collected on First Four EPs, which feels like a complete, satisfying album despite its 18-minute length. This approach seems more than a little gimmicky, given that all four EPs and the collection were released in a matter of months, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

The songs are, of course, uniformly short and intense. Though the band only has one speed, they manage to keep each song sounding different. Most manage to squeeze chord changes or a verse-chorus-verse structure in despite their short length, and all of them are distinct musically and lyrically. These are sixteen fleshed out songs, not just throwaway clips. The songs also cover an impressive range of topics, from confrontational political songs to a eulogy for punk singer Jeffrey Lee Pierce. Quite a few of them address depression and social anxiety. That’s a topic that I’m not used to hearing in punk music, but the band’s honest, straightforward approach makes it seem like the most natural idea in the world. “Blast” is a rare uplifting track, with singer Keith Morris unapologetically celebrating that he “slashed and burned through my fifteen minutes of fame.”

One good thing about the EP format is that there isn’t any space for dead wood, especially with such a short length. There’s not a single disappointing track on this CD. However, the full collection also feels like it lacks standout tracks. One or two longer, meatier songs could have gone a long way towards fleshing this out as an album. That’s the only complaint I can come up with, though. First Four EPs is a stunning argument for the relevance of fierce, vicious hardcore in today’s world.

Grade: A-

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