Category: OFF!

Album review: 'OFF!' by OFF!

Off! by Off!

Los Angeles punk band Off! accomplishes an impressive feat on its self-titled debut album (after last year’s collection of EPs): Sixteen songs in under 16 minutes, each a compact, sonic rampage via scream, electric guitar, bass and drum, by four men who understand compressed aggression: Keith Morris (Circle Jerks, Black Flag), Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides, lead villain in the film “Suck”), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket from the Crypt, Hot Snakes).

In Los Angeles terms, that’s about the span it takes to drive from Vine to Alvarado streets down Sunset Boulevard, with Morris barking out bursts of verses about apocalyptic toxic boxes, false foundations, confusion piling up like trash, Darby Crash, chumps, drones, stone hearts, the Crenshaw strip, the King Kong Brigade (“sprinkling glass on their Happy Meals!”) and the Torrance jail. By the last lines of the album, during the song “I Want One (I Need One),” Morris has declared in all-caps that “I AM THEE HAPPENING” while acknowledging that “inside there’s nothing left, looking down from the 13th floor.”

Whew. But that’s Morris, whose quick lyrical exclamation points have always focused on frustration. What makes “Off!” burn is the band. To say that Coats, McDonald and Rubalcaba are tight is to simplify something incredibly rare: the ability to cram into 50 menacing seconds about five minutes worth of drama and structure without once dropping a beat. Few verses on “Off!” last more than four bars, ditto bridges and hooks. Coats’ chaotic guitar solos burst out and are reigned in within a few spazzy seconds. Choruses hit like skateboard wipeouts.

“My life was saved by Darby Crash,” says Morris in “Jet Black Girls” after he has screamed of shoving a six pack of tall boys down his pants and having “Co Co puffs with Mr. Scratch.” “Immortality calls,” he declares at the end. This is Los Angeles hard-core. Long may it rule.

Off!
"Off!"
Vice Records
Three-and-a-half stars (out of four)

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Keith Morris and Off! are pressed for time

-- Randall Roberts @liledit

Redd Kross survives the 'awkward' stage, readies new album

Redd Kross
The first new album in 15 years from Redd Kross was five years in the making. It may have taken even longer had Steven McDonald not signed on for a desk job. In the summer of 2010 the Redd Kross co-founder and current member of OFF! went to work as an A&R executive for Warner Bros. 

"It smoked me out of my hive," McDonald told Pop & Hiss Monday afternoon. While McDonald relished the opportunity to champion young artists, he ultimately found life behind the scenes "a little awkward."

"I had to figure out whether I wanted to go on tour and be an artist again, or if I just wanted to be chasing down other artists and trying to get 15% of their touring or merch money," he said. "Not to be too crass, but it was an eye-opening experience. When you have 10 bosses, you can believe what you’re saying, but it’s hard to pull it off when there’s so many voices that actually have more say than you do."

Having reunited in 2006, Redd Kross had been tinkering with new material long before McDonald took a day job, but plans to release a new album accelerated soon after he left the gig. The band, which had its beginnings in punk rock when an 11-year-old McDonald began playing music with his teenage brother Jeff more than 30 years ago, has now signed with celebrated North Carolina indie label Merge Records. A new 10-track album, "Researching the Blues," is due Aug. 7.

The band's last album, 1997's "Show World," was a crisp power-pop collection, one long removed from the band's far more scrappy start on 1982's "Born Innocent." The new album was largely written by Jeff and produced by his younger brother, and Steven hesitates to speculate on where it would fit in the Redd Kross canon, declaring it a "straightforward, simple collection of tunes."

"It’s certainly not as trashy and snotty as the ‘Born Innocent’ era," he said. "I don’t know how to eloquently put it. Styles have changed. With each of our records there was always at least a three-year gap and an evolution happening. When we were young it was happening much quicker. We were literally just going through puberty on record."

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Keith Morris and OFF! are pressed for time

Keith Morris of OFF!
The first thing Keith Morris says to start an interview, before even "Hi, how are you?" pleasantries have been exchanged, is that he's "not into it."

Specifically, the member of L.A.'s punk rock royalty doesn't like preordained press days. Make no mistake, Morris is outgoingly friendly and eager to discuss his new album with OFF!, but he makes it clear from the start that he doesn't believe a 20-minute phone call with a stranger is a proper way to have a conversation.

No argument here, of course, but the comment is a tad surprising coming from Morris. After all, his band's self-titled second album, due in stores Tuesday, is 16 tracks that clock in at less than 16 minutes. Morris, it would seem, wouldn't be someone who would need a lot of time to get to the point.

"We’re urgent," says Morris, whose roles in Black Flag and the Circle Jerks helped shape the Southern California punk scene, one where snottiness and rebellion were often coupled with skateboarding. The two worlds, says Morris, share a "get-up-and-go-type attitude." 

"We’re hectic," he continues. "We don’t have a lot of time. Three of the guys in the band are fathers, so they have to be dads. Two of the guys play in other bands. One guy plays in four bands."

Don't interrupt Morris, and he'll continue for a number of minutes, detailing the pedigrees of each member of OFF!. The band is something of a punk rock supergroup or, as Morris has referred to it in the past, "Plan B," as the band was formed after sessions for a new Circle Jerks album went south. In OFF!, he works with Steven McDonald (Redd Kross), Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From the Crypt) and Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides).

Yet even when a song is just 44 seconds, everything feels in its proper place. These are tightly packed bursts of noise that riff, distengrate and immediately beg for a second listen.  

"That would be because of our musical director, Dimitri Coats," Morris says. "He comes from a different genre. He comes from a grungier, louder, stonier place. He’s played with Mark Lanegan and Josh Homme and all of those desert stoner guys. That’s not what we’re about, although we might have a bit of that running through what we do."

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