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.
Three-and-a-half stars (out of four)
-- Randall Roberts @liledit