Fugazi Blasts Back With End Hits

DIY punk band returns after three years with a powerful new album.

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

Medicine.

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.