WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fans who have waited three years to see how Fugazi would follow up 1995's
Red Medicine -- the most experimental work to date from the punk
stalwarts -- will be well-rewarded for their patience when the band
releases their sixth album, End Hits, on April 27, on their own indie label, Dischord. Like a canyon,
Fugazi's work offers a broad landscape, but also myriad precipices on which
to light and examine details. While some of End Hits' elements are
familiar, still others extend the musical challenges posited by Red
Fugazi -- singer/guitarists Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto, bass player Joe
Lally and drummer Brendan Canty -- thrive on challenge, be it their quest
to maintain integrity long after their peers have moved on to other
concerns, or the bigger (and perhaps more elusive) pursuit of continuing to
make music that interests and excites them. Over the past 11 years,
they've worked hard to develop their unique musical character -- a
foundation of political and personal ruminations and indictments, set to a
percussive punk rumble that is as much their own sound as Sonic Youth's
dissonance or Metallica's growl are theirs.
But Fugazi's personality is an ethos as well as a sound, so you won't find
them making country or electronica records in the interest of generating
fresh noise. Fugazi have, however, set for themselves an objective to evolve,
which they continue to meet with End Hits.
Perhaps the most immediate surprise on the 13-song disc is how the band
weaves a more traditional use of melody into its rhythm-heavy sound. On
the self-sabotage-themed opener "Break," for example, MacKaye interrupts the
band's signature percussion mix to offer delicate singing rather than the
speechifying he usually chooses for his limited voice, and he employs this
technique again on the relationship-salvage number "Pink Frosty." And on
the closing tune "F/D" -- like several Fugazi songs from the past, an
examination of sex and sexism in American culture -- Picciotto's
stripped-down verse approaches a sound embracable even by conservative
modern-rock radio programmers.
Not that these elements are by any means concessions, as the rest of End
Hits proves in spades. Fugazi's sound is still rooted in Lally and
Canty's amazingly textured and fluid work (they're the best rhythm section
in punk), and songs like "Place Position," "Five Corporations" and "Caustic
Acrostic" pack a wind-swept wallop. Moreover, Fugazi are one of the few
bands that consistently have something interesting to say with their
instrumentals; here "Arpeggiator" continues in the tradition of past
intros such as "Steady Diet," "Brendan #1" and "Joe #1."
Meanwhile, the experimentation begun with Red Medicine continues as
well. Picciotto's "Floating Boy" melds a song about a childhood day at the
beach with a stalking, Black Sabbath-like soundscape. "F/D" stitches
together three song fragments, one of which sounds like a demo tracked with
the recording line half out of its socket.
Lyrically, End Hits features a band that used to work in (sometimes
painfully) plain terms further developing its use of abstractions that
assume more recognizable forms the longer the listener holds them. Because
Fugazi have always allied themselves loyally with their home base of
Washington, D.C., many of the most immediately engaging songs on End
Hits are those that tackle the notion of home and culture. "May all
your borders be porous," sings Picciotto on the pro-immigration salvo
"Place Position," "smear genetics, c'est la vie." Two songs later, on "No
Surprise," he concludes "No CIA, no NSA, no satellite could map our veins."
Elsewhere, the band attacks American monoliths, from commerce to media.
MacKaye's "Five Corporations" hammers at the homogenization running rampant
through the United States, with every town beginning to look like the same
amalgamation of Staples, Blockbuster and Home Depot stores. On "Foreman's
Dog," Picciotto draws a scathing portrait of a vulturish media. "Cut to
the sad and sorry image of some grinning [broad]caster," he spits, "staring
at a sinkhole piling up disasters, marking the footage raw."
Of course, over the past decade Fugazi themselves have become their own
sort of monolith on the American music scene, defining their brand name as
recognizably as Coca-Cola or Disney. Fortunately, their mission entails
challenging themselves and their fans, rather than overtaking everything in
site. End Hits will surely prove a welcome addition to Fugazi's
already impressive product line.