November 2, 2001

Arguing a New Hardcore

Print More

Fugazi is possibly one of the best known underground punk bands to remain on an indie. In a musical world where moderate small-label success usually leads to a mainstream breakthrough soon after, Fugazi has stayed devoutly indie for over a decade. It’s a tribute to both their enormous musical skill and their purest politics that they’ve gained new fans with each release, all while releasing CDs on their own Dischord label for a mere $10, and keeping concert prices below $5.

Their sixth proper album, The Argument, continues the band’s trend of constantly expanding the boundaries of what can be considered hardcore. From the caustic strains of their debut, Repeater, to the diverse sounds of 1998’s End Hits, Fugazi has never stopped experimenting. But nothing could possibly have prepared fans for The Argument. If anything, the band has moved even further from their hardcore roots — which is likely to further alienate those few fans who have been bitching about “selling out” practically since 1990.

Of course, there’s still plenty of hardcore to please more open-minded punk fans. “Full Disclosure” is singer/guitarist Guy Picciotto’s aggressive rant against the sameness-inducing aspects of culture. But even on this song, the choruses are backed up by second singer Ian MacKaye’s harmony vocals, giving it more of a poppy punch.

The album’s highlight is its dark, melodic mid-section: the fantastic triple attack of “Life and Limb,” “The Kill,” and “Strangelight.” The former features jagged, complex interwoven guitar lines by MacKaye and Picciotto, who have evolved into one of the tightest dual lead-guitar teams in rock. Whereas their previous collaborations have often felt like a powerful guitar duel, now their playing merges into one thick tangle of angular guitars.

On “The Kill,” MacKaye turns in subdued, nearly whispered vocals, as drummer Brendan Canty cuts back on his typically driving polyrhythms to provide a warm bed of shaken percussion. The minimalist, searching guitar and thick bass slowly build tension, but the expected explosion never comes; instead, the band interweaves some decidedly unexpected whistling into the mix before the song dies out on MacKaye’s Darth Vader-like heavy breathing.

“Strangelight” is the band’s best song to date, and coincidentally the most different from the rest of their work. The song starts as spare and melodic as the two preceding tracks, but it builds to an impressive climax with lilting cello laid naturally over an extended jam. It’s a surprise, and the interplay between the cello and two guitars is surprisingly well-executed for a band who’s stock-in-trade has traditionally been guitar/ bass/drums rock.

The Furniture EP, released at the same time as The Argument, collects 3 of the band’s earliest unrecorded songs. The EP may not continue the experimental mood of the album, but it does deliver three hardcore gems. “Furniture” is the anthemic highlight, but the instrumental “Number 5” and the frantic “Hello Morning” are also great.

Fugazi’s staunch refusal to compromise their moral, anti-corporate stance or their fiercely independent music has made them one of the most respected bands around today. These two new releases are further proof of this band’s lasting greatness.

Archived article by Ed Howard