Moving Still

When I think about Fugazi I envision a Spike Lee-type scene. The

band

faces the camera, apparently standing still, while the background

appears to shift steadily behind them. In actuality, the band's

standing on a moving sidewalk.

Which is to say that what makes Fugazi appear static to some has

little to do with the music they play, and more to do with their

rootedness to geographical place. The four-piece's reputation as a

monolith in the

punk-rock community stems in part from their entrenchment in the

Washington, D.C., music scene, while many of their brethren from

the

city's hardcore heyday -- 13-17 years ago, depending on how

reactionary your devotion to Fugazi precursors like Minor Threat

and

Rites of Spring runs -- left the town for burghs north and west. Of

course, the band has

its heels just as resolutely dug into the independent Dischord label

run by Fugazi guitarist/singer Ian MacKaye, while others in the

area

have jumped ship in search of a major label's comfier quarters.

When

you factor in the group's stoic refusal to play concerts that aren't

open to all ages, or for which tickets cost more than five bucks,

you've got what appears to be one pillar of a punk group.

But despite their unflagging allegiance to place and principle,

Fugazi

have rejected their genre's shackles (which are typically applied

by

fans who would have a band remain musically stagnant in tribute

to

what MacKaye has sneeringly referred to as the band's "salad

days").

In fact, at some of their best moments Fugazi have actively

undercut

the notions that some would consider their foundation.

Take End Hits' limber yet precise second track, "Place

Position."

The song opens with wound-up guitar and drum bursts that

explode

into a

gallop before settling into a pattern behind the verse that bounces

off so many anchor points that the singer might as well be in a

rubber room. Later it throws itself back into the gallop before

hitting a straight-shooting bridge that dissolves into a seething

hiss, which then starts the whole thing all over again in a different

order. It's a head-spinning but absorbing sonic weave, even for a

band that has never liked to sit still.

It's against this musical backdrop that guitarist Guy Picciotto

sketches a gauzy portrait of an immigrant. "All origins are

accidental," says the

singer whose band is as tightly connected to a single locality as

Nirvana was to Seattle or the MGs were to Memphis. Later, he

raises

a glass to the metaphoric demolition of the Immigration and

Naturalization Service: "May all your borders be porous/free

transmission, smear genetics, c'est la vie." Of course, most rational

people should have no problem reconciling the band's hometown

fidelity with its assertion that that same fidelity is partially

rooted in the by-and-large arbitrary location of the group's birth.

Nonetheless, "Place Position" serves as an enticing symbol of

Fugazi's refusal to be pinned down.

Fans of the band will recognize End Hits as part of the

experimentation begun in earnest on Fugazi's last album, Red

Medicine (1995). That's not to say, however, that all of the

band's

challenges are stretches into the avant-garde. Some, in fact, are

forays

into more traditional uses of melody. Fugazi certainly haven't

eschewed

melody in the past (see "Waiting Room" from 1988's 13

Songs

or "Long Division" from 1991's Steady Diet of Nothing), but

in

the past, melody was inextricably intertwined with the rhythm

section of Joe Lally (bass) and Brendan Canty (drums).

On End Hits the band also drops in simple vocal melodies

with

delicate deliveries, as on MacKaye's nod to self-sabotage,

"Break," or

the track "Pink Frosty." On the latter, MacKaye's voice is so hushed

that it sounds as though he's talking to himself. Canty's percussion

suggests church bells in the middle of the night, while the rest of

the band conjures a cinematic moment in which we see the singer

walking alone on a wet street.

Not that all of their experiments are so successful. Picciotto's

lyrical remembrance of summers past in "Floating Boy" jibes

poorly

with the song's music, which seemingly has less to do with

stinging

sunburns and pummeling waves than with a stalker hunting his

prey.

"F/D" -- a song Beefheartian in its planned randomness, which

sounds like three fragments stitched together -- works better in

theory than in execution.

Still, such missteps are offset handily by tracks such as "Five

Corporations," which takes fewer chances but is righteously

delicious all the same, with its sans-guitar shouting and harmony-

soaked chorus. Also of note is "Foreman's Dog," a track with an

almost-Spanish turn of the guitar in which Picciotto displays how

finely he has honed his

lyric-writing. Here, in his threadbare voice, the singer draws

several

sharply-focused pictures of a media with dubious intentions,

whereas in the past he or MacKaye might have simply spouted

slogans.

A variety of personal developments among band members

(illness,

weddings, child births) account for the three-year wait for End

Hits, a gap that has made the album one of the band's most

anticipated in its 11-year career. Of course, with Fugazi, every new

album has been eagerly expected, not only as a new collection of

songs, but as the latest step in the band's continually engaging

evolution.