Friday, December 17, 2010

December 17: Minor Threat, "Minor Threat"

Artist: Minor Threat
Song: "Minor Threat"
Album: Minor Threat (first 7")
Year: 1981

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In most cases, the "birthplace" of a certain style of music can be argued for a number of different locations, as there are often a number of bands rising simultaneously with a similar sound.  Though the style in question may have its roots in one area, there may be a few different bands that stand as the "founders" due to the way in which they performed.  Yet there is one style of music with which there is no arguing its origin, nor "the" band that kick-started the entire movement: hardcore.  Though many critics tend to improperly label is as "just punk," hardcore music has its own unique characteristics, with a base in punk being only one part.  While one can argue the "beginning" of punk in cities like New York City, Detroit, and even Boston, there is no question that the birthplace of hardcore music is anywhere but Washington, D.C., and few can argue any band being more important to the development of this sound than the legendary Minor Threat.  Fronted by the "godfather of hardcore," Ian MacKaye, and being one of the key reasons for the development and success of Dischord Records, the music of Minor Threat remains unrivaled in terms of intensity, authenticity, and influence, with everything one needs to know about the band being found on their first, self-titled seven-inch release.  Containing many of their most iconic songs, there are few tracks that better define Minor Threat and the hardcore sound in general than their 1981 song, "Minor Threat."

From the moment that "Minor Threat" begins, the attitude and mission of the music is clear, and there is a swagger and intensity that can me instantly felt when MacKaye mutters, " it faster..." over the opening riff.  The tone and mood in the guitar of Lyle Preslar is unsettling in a manner unlike anything else before it, and one can easily pick out the influences from the great punk bands as well as their peers such as Bad Brains.  Combined with Brian Baker's bass playing, the song seems to pace around the listener, and it gives "Minor Threat" and intimidating, confrontational feel.  The dry tone of the drums from Jeff Nelson heightens this mood, and in the latter part of the song, when the tempo picks up, it is easy to imagine how this song would have set a live crowd into a blissful musical fury.  The combined sound of these three players is nothing short of perfect, and there is a more concerted effort to have a melody that is missing from the music of a majority of the peers and followers of Minor Threat.  Furthermore, the band is able to bring as much intensity and ferocity to their music without using an overwhelming amount of volume or layered guitar parts, and this is another way in which the band remains unique in the hardcore movement.  The fast-paced, no frills or filler style which the group presents on "Minor Threat" stands as the very definition of how hardcore music was meant to be, and since their time, no group has been able to match them on any level.

Though due to his status within the music community, as well as the projects he has done since, it may seem almost cliché to mention how perfect the vocals of Ian MacKaye are on "Minor Threat," the fact of the matter is that one simply cannot overstate his talent, nor his importance to the development of the hardcore scene.  The firey clarity of his voice instantly sets him in a category all his own, and even on this early song, it is clear that MacKaye had a great deal to say within his music, and "you" were going to listen.  Rarely moving beyond speaking and screaming on the track, it is though his vocals that "Minor Threat" takes on its persona of being a warning to the world that hardcore had "officially" arrived, and it is due to songs like this that it was clear that the style wasn't going anywhere.  Matching the intensity of the music, there are few vocal tracks that are as perfect a rallying cry as one finds here, and the song has become an anthem of the hardcore movement.  Every line in the song is to the point and deadly accurate in describing the frustration of the restrictions that society places on "adults," and MacKaye delivers one of his most brilliantly perfect lines when he states, "... It's not how old I am, it's how old I feel..."  This sentiment still rings true in the hearts of "aging" punk and hardcore fans, and quite simply, no artist since has stated it as accurately nor in a manner that matches the authenticity and mood that MacKaye brings to "Minor Threat.

Though the band only formally existed for about three years, the collection of songs that Minor Threat recorded in that time span stand as far greater than the work that most bands released in three or four times that length.  Every song in their catalog can be seen as a hardcore classic, and the songs remain just as powerful and fresh today as they were nearly thirty years ago.  Whether the band was defining the "straight edge" lifestyle or rallying against the establishment, there was always a sense of integrity in their music and it is much the reason that the band remains so iconic to this day.  While their songs have been re-released on a number of different Dischord compilations over the years, it is almost mind boggling to consider the group of tracks that one finds on this first seven-inch release.  With eight tracks clocking it at just under fifteen minutes, the potency found on the record far outweighs a majority of albums of "normal" length, proving that there is a brilliance in the simplicity of the hardcore and punk sounds.  Every aspect of every song is completely focused to a point where the songs are almost nervously unsettling at points, and this only adds to the phenomenal moods and power that Minor Threat delivers on every song.  Though each track they recorded can be considered a classic, no song better defines the band, their sound, and everything they stood for than one finds in Minor Threat's extraordinary 1981 song, "Minor Threat."

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