Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Albums that let these ears see; Chp 1

Red Medicine - Fugazi

I realize that I hate the sound of guitars.

Distortion breaks itself over the knee of cluttered noise, slumps itself to a spineless mass and drains the focus from the mind. As the aimless pounding slows, the ambient hum drones slightly too long. And then you’re blown away.

13 years ago Fugazi defied what a punk album could be and in so doing set themselves atop the heap. Red Medicine is, by most punk standards, not a true punk album. By Fugazi standards, most claim it ranks third, second at best in the catalog. In my twisted mind, this is a near perfect album.

For fifty seconds, the opening fifty seconds, Fugazi wants you to know nothing of their intent. They demand that all expectations are laid to waste. They throw you in a spin of thought as your mind races to arrange and assimilate the ruckus, struggling to take hold of structure. Then the stunning guitars cut and the mind is overwhelmed in the transition, tight and precise. This sets the tempo for the rest of the album.

From here the band hammers away with brilliant song structure, measured and controlled chaos, sharp, wry and witty lyrics and the continuous onslaught of lightening guitars.

Perhaps what makes this album so brilliant is exactly why it is not recognized as such. Fugazi, along with Minor Threat and Black Flag, hailed as the new generation of punk and were the proud sons of the DC scene. Punk was learning to be creative, complex, in a sense growing up and taking hold of true musicians. These were not the kids in the neighbors’ garage. These were brilliant artists. Fugazi, may have outsmarted themselves with Red.

Where Modest Mouse found structure to the Tom Waits pots and pans rattle of musically inclined ‘non-music’, Fugazi nodded along, agreed it was unique and then gave it the backbone of speed and delivery. The guitar work is stunning. It is fast, in time, evolving, layered and complex. More in lines with a grunge band than a punk band.

There are instrumental only tracks here that show knowledge of jazz and the open ability to jam. Punk had struggled to mature in these ways in the past, Fugazi made it sound unsettlingly perfect. Combination Lock eludes to a thought process well out of the realm of punk, bringing in keys and computers.

Take Nirvana Bleach and Radiohead The Bends, place them atop each other on the turntable, spin the needle against the grain and kick the sucker down the stairs.

This album taught me patience. I did understand any of it at first. At times it sounded like crap. There was no focus, no theme, no true sound. Why did a punk band want to have songs like this, songs that had nothing to do with one another? This was before I had heard Pavement…I would later understand.

For some reason I stuck with this album and it has served as an anchor to me whenever I try something new, strange, foreign. It has allowed me to force bands like The Mars Volta on myself, while at the same time given me a false hope that bands that song as though they might suck, do indeed suck, no matter how many times you listen to the album.

After 13 years this album remains a fixture in my rotation. I have owned three copies of the CD, have purchased twice on iTunes and once from emusic. This album is a part of me. The first 7 songs bring me to so many places in my life, it connects me to who I once was, who I am becoming and who I have always been.

I needed something to do
and so I split into two
But now the pattern takes hold
I find I'm losing control