First Four EPs (Vice)
I'll preface this review by laying it on the table that I was predisposed to like this. As a middle-aged rock guy, I'm always rooting for the old guys, and I long for the days when "hardcore" was an adjective used to modify "punk." That said, I'm well aware that it's often a misstep for classic bands to sully their reputations by recording new material 30-plus years later (see the Stooges, Big Star), and that "supergroups" usually aren't so super.
With former Black Flag/Circle Jerks vocalist Keith Morris, bassist Jeff McDonald (Redd Kross), guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Hot Snakes/Rocket From the Crypt), Off! definitely fits into the supergroup category—and they pull it off with aplomb. While the band features A-list players, First Four EPs is definitely Morris' show, a throwback to the diminutive singer's roots in proto-hardcore. Off! keeps it simple, delivering 16 rapid-fire tracks in a scant 18 minutes. The band's approach is indeed formulaic, but subtlety and musical exploration were surely not on its to-do list. Like a disciplined SWAT team, the band gets in and gets the job done without casualties.
The songs merge into one another—not so bad, considering how the whole affair is over before you know it. (An occasional guitar solo would have broken things up nicely.) Morris sounds great, although the recording has an overdriven mic effect that erases the limited nuance he might have had with a drier mix. Still, First Four EPs sounds timeless and urgent, a howl of suburban rage from a grizzled veteran who knows all too well that nothing's gonna change.