OFF! seem to be quite interested in the fervor that can be afforded to their particular style of punk. Their first record wasn’t even twenty minutes long, yet it captured a fierceness that belied the age of the band’s members and the era that they were playing in. They sounded like punk with a timestamp that was finally seeing the light of day over three decades later. OFF! works with the same stark contrasts, and serves up the musical equivalent of an espresso shot.
OFF!’s blueprint is modest: Wire-like simplicity and a penchant for the morose, all underpinned by wisecracks and smart-assed quips. There isn’t really time for singer Keith Morris to say much else; nine songs on OFF! are less than a minute long. “Are you smoking pot or is your head up your ass?” he asks on “Cracked.” It’s a pulpy 53-second detonation that doesn’t really end, just transitions into “Wrong,” which finds Morris in a more conclusive mood. His snarling persona is ageless, and while it permeates the whole of the album, one can’t help but feel like he has more to give than what is here.
In the moments where Morris does have the space to stretch out his narratives, he sticks to grim topics. On “Harbor Freeway Blues” he wonders if a boy’s death was an accident or suicide. He explores self-destruction on “Vaporized,” a looming apocalypse on “Toxic Box,” and “Feelings Are Meant to be Hurt” is self-explanatory. There are no niceties and no apologies, which helps to build the case for the album’s length.
Even though they probably couldn’t be working with simpler pieces, the band’s musicianship is strong. Every slash of the guitar is purposeful and the band’s chemistry is omnipresent, but many of the songs are so succinct that they end up feeling like fizzled fireworks instead of the blink-and-they’re-gone jabs they’re meant to be. When compared with the transience of “Borrow and Bomb” or “503,” tracks like “King Kong Brigade” feel positively expansive. The songs tend to be better if they have more space to breathe, a fact that the band is either unfazed by or unaware of. OFF!’s preferred format is both a strength and a weakness, it demands that their music be taken at face value.
OFF! are not your typical greying rockers; they sound as menacing as bands less than half their age. While they fail to deliver the same bang for your buck as their earlier releases, they sound just as vigorous and incisive. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of unvarnished punk should listen to OFF! at least once.