I’ve had the Black Flag bars tattoo on my body since I was 16. Their The First Four Years cassette walked around with me through the dark halls of high school and beyond. Off!’s second album Wasted Years is everything that the new Black Flag record isn’t: It’s authentic and there are songs. Riffs. Energy. Emotion. Real anger. This band has flammable chemistry, and the songs are everything my 15-year-old, Black Flag-lovin’ angry kid interior wants.
Wasted Years is my favorite thing I’ve heard from Off! thus far. It also helps that former Black Flag record cover/flyer artist Raymond Pettibon does their visual representation — it’s grimy and loose and sardonic, with those hard contrasts. I’ve been a fan of his work since the moment I saw it. And singer Keith Morris is a punk legend. He was Black Flag’s first singer, and it was his voice I was singing along with when I was 15 and just getting into punk music.
Being a hardworking touring musician myself, I know what it’s like “out there,” both on the road and in the scene, and I feel that I have a pretty good bullshit meter for bands who are faking it or pretending to be something they’re not. I recently saw a pretty hyped punk band and was pretty let down because it just seemed so contrived. OK, they’re from Brooklyn. So what. They had a cool look and a few good hooks and Pitchfork likes them but overall I just wasn’t buying it. It’s like this with a lot of bands. Off! is not like that. They tour a lot and are hard-working musicians. The bands that the members have been associated with (Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Burning Brides, Red Kross, Rocket from the Crypt) show that these guys live and breathe music and have done so for a long time. Off! is for real.
The band recorded on eight-track to 1/2″ tape with minimal overdubs and no punch-ins, a great move because it really captures the band’s sound and energy. These guys are really tight and focused. Off! achieve the vibe of the punk rock ethos that has been missing in so many so-called “punk” bands of recent years.
The songs on Wasted Years sound fresh, but it’s also such a great collection of early SoCal punk sounds — if we were to go back in time, I think Off! would have been a perfect addition to Penelope Spheeris’ 1983 film about punk runaways, Suburbia. I keep seeing scenes from that movie when listening to this record. I can totally see Jack and Skinner slamdancing to this and looking tough as shit doing so. The song “Hypnotized” in particular seems like a likely song for some of the club scenes: dirty, angry punks circling the sweaty room, getting their frustrations out on the dance floor. “It’s no surprise, we’ve been hypnotized… Ever feel you’re being used?” Yeah, man.
I remember waiting for Mr. Watson’s 10th grade algebra class to start, sitting there with my Walkman (I never could rock a CDman) blaring The First Four Years into my ears while I stared at a chalkboard in a room full of people alien from me. The one guy I always sat next to was OK, and he wanted to hear what I was listening to. The song “You Bet We’ve Got Something Personal Against You” was playing and he was like, “Wow… that is some hardcore stuff.” Yes, exactly. It was my bible. There are moments on Wasted Years that definitely remind me of that angst.
For example, on “Time’s Not On Your Side,” Morris shouts: “You fuck with me? I’ll fuck with you!… Time’s not on your side.” It’s convincing and I want to yell it out to the world along with him. And damn, I love the riffs. So good. The song starts out as a classic midtempo dirge before it speeds up for the chorus. I want to play this on vinyl and really fucking loud. The riff that comes in is placed perfectly and the lead that follows rips the way it should. The feeling of urgency: That’s what comes across in some of my favorite records. Like these guys need to play these songs and share them with us angry societal outcasts.
After so many years, Keith Morris still has it. He’s pissed and jaded and he’s gonna tell you about it. And that’s cool because I’ll be there shouting along with him at the show.