Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November 3: Fugazi, "Repeater"

Artist: Fugazi
Album: Repeater
Year: 1990
Label: Dischord

Most artists have enough trouble making a single band successful, and in the case of a rare few, an artist may be lucky enough to have moderate success with a second band or as a solo artist. However, there are a distinct, elite group of music icons who seem to find musical success in every musical endeavor that they attempt. The names of these music legends rank among the most hallowed in history, and the mere mention of their name demands the utmost respect. In this group of masters of music is the man who, along with being a part of one of the most important early punk bands, found even more influential success later in his career, and has proved over the last three decades that his musical mastery knows no boundaries. Playing a vital role in the emergence of the Washington, DC punk scene as a member of The Teen Idles, and later fronting the cities most definitive hardcore band, Minor Threat, as well as running the most well respected and longest running independent record label, Dischord Records, Ian MacKaye is truly a musical anomaly. Obviously, his more recent work as one-half of The Evens makes his status in the overall picture of music even more amazing. However, during the time after Minor Threat called it a career, and before The Evens formed, MacKaye assembled what was, in many ways, the ultimate "anti-corporate" band, the equally legendary, Fugazi. By far one of the most musically creative and talented project of all of MacKayes' work, the band left nothing to question and silenced all critics with their absolutely stunning 1990 debut, the truly incomparable, Repeater.

Taking on every aspect of capitalist America, Repeater is by far one of the most intellegent and socially aware "political" records ever recorded. Truth be told, the ethics and non-musical approach of Fugazi may be one of the few things that garnered as much attention as the music itself. Representing the most pure form of "D.I.Y." music, the band was notorious for their five dollar concerts, ten dollar CD's (in a time when AT LEAST fifteen was the going rate), and high level of community activism, the band was more than just a music act, they were a culture and scene onto themselves. The album was, in fact, released twice during 1990, with two distinct versions. The original release of Repeater was released in January, with the original eleven tracks. After the initial pressing sold out, the band added the three songs that originally appeared on the 3 Songs EP and altered the album title to Repeater +3 Songs. Fugazi represents the epitome of a band that has no sense of humor, as their songs were hard-hitting, devoid of filler, and yet beautifully written. In many ways, one can see Fugazi as an updated version of Gang Of Four, as their sparse, yet complex musical arrangements and unrelenting vocals and lyrics bear a slight resemblance to the former band. Repeater perfectly captures everything that makes them such a highly regarded band, and the only thing that comes close to the power of the band is the amazing level of musicianship found on every song.

Musically, Fugazi is far and away the most sonically gifted of all of the hardcore bands, and similarly the most instrumentally aimed and adventurous of all of MayKaye's projects. To this point, Repeater features what is almost a "taboo" within the punk and hardcore scenes: an instrumental track. The song, simply titled "Brendan #1," stands as one of the pivotal moments in hardcore music, and it proved that one truly does not need lyrics to have musical impact within the confines of the punk ethos. This is largely due to the overwhelming amount of talent and chemistry within Fugazi's four band members. Representing what may very well be the most skilled rhythm section in the history of music, drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally rise far above the title of "musical icons." Creating some of the most original and non-traditional rhythms ever recorded, the duo are nothing short of stunning and are able to make even the most seemingly laid back song hit with awesome force and amazing musicality. The other half of the band can stake claim to the title of "best guitar duo in the same band in history." The way in which Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye play with and around one another is truly stunning to hear, and the patterns that they create remain unrivaled anywhere else in music. Constantly switching between lead and rhythm, the sounds created by Picciotto and MacKaye truly must be experienced firsthand to be properly appreciated. The combination of the four fantastic musicians reaches full fruition on every track, yet it is songs like the blistering title track, as well as the absolutely phenomenal "Sieve-Fisted Find" that truly put all of Fugazi's brilliance on display.

Along with splitting the guitar playing on Repeater, Picciotto and MacKaye also stand as one of the most extraordinary vocal pairings in recorded history. With two extremely distinctive voices and vocal approaches, the duo somehow fit perfectly with the others' sound. While MacKaye brings his signature sing-speak that he perfected in his days with Minor Threat, Picciotto possesses one of the most wonderfully distinctive voices of his generation, and every vocal that he sings or screams is absolutely perfect. Throughout Repeater, Picciotto and MayKaye create absolutely monstrous tension and release moments, and the pure, unrestrained emotion behind their voices perfectly compliments the inspiring, high-powered music. This lyrical brilliance is high-lighted by the almost unsettling double-tracked vocals that dominate the albums' title track. As previously stated, the songs found on Repeater are devoid of any humor, and each song is a forceful lyrical indictment, and they rank among some of the greatest lyrics ever composed. On one of the albums' unsung gems, "Styrofoam," MayKaye rages, "...there are no more cultures left to slide, there are no more people to be tried..." while on "Merchandise," he challenges the Capitalist paradigm with the lines, "...what could a businessman ever want more, than to have us sucking in his store? We owe you nothing...you have no control...you are not what you own..." Such pointed and powerful lyrics had rarely been heard before, and the manner in which they are delivered throughout Repeater aids in making the album a true musical masterpiece.

Sounding slightly similar, but simultaneously nothing at all like his previous band, Minor Threat, Ian MacKaye again solidified his place as a true musical icon when Fugazi's Repeater was unleashed onto the world in 1990. Easily his most musically focused project, as well as the most directly political band he had formed to that point, Fugazi breathed new life into a then-floundering hardcore scene. Bringing some of the tightest and most phenomenal beats and rhythms in the history of music, the duo of Canty and Lally remain today the most impressive rhythm section to ever record. One need look no further than their brilliant performance on the title track as well as "Sieve-Fisted Find" to fully understand why these two musicians know no match. Playing just as brilliantly and staking their own claim to iconic status, the dueling guitars of Picciotto and MacKaye create a sound like none ever heard before. Throughout the entire album, the pair create some of the most frenzied and powerful textures ever, and the combination of all four musicians is a sound that remains unrivaled to this day. Every song is nothing short of invigorating, and the sound and style the group presented has influenced countless bands and remains a huge influence on the hardcore genre nearly twenty years after it's initial release. Though one can make the case that anything IanMacKaye releases is worth owning, he once again revitalized and altered the state of hardcore and "D.I.Y." music when Fugazi released their monumental debut album, 1990's indispensable Repeater.

Standout tracks: "Repeater," "Two Beats Off," and "Styrofoam."

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