Brevity adds up. In less than 3 minutes, in one song, the new OFF! album, Free LSD flashes triple A batteries around an abandoned world to gather up scraps of Chamber Brothers limbs, Albert Ayler marching bands, MB & SPK oscillations, and ghost nods to Kiss goin’ blind. OFF!’s first new record in eight years translates the work of an alien race attempting to rebuild the remains of your destroyed record collection. It has so much of everything that it melds into one thing without playing a spot the reference of the hard funk at times or the weird Hawkwind departures or pop of The Sweet or The Boxtops. Free LSD hits reset like The Beatles conjuring Revolver, The Walker Brothers Nite Flights refusal to be a reunion album, The Everly Brothers Roots digging into the core of the planet, or that record by Baby Huey where every influence merges so effortlessly and seamlessly that it is simply one sound unified. They have no time for fucking around. Here, now, sublingual, on the tongue. Like the first 3 records, the raging two-minute bonfires that make up Free LSD were written by the core of the band, Keith Morris & Dimitri Coats. But this time, there’s no time for song separation or palette cleansing as OFF! push their punk rock pedigree into the cherry red.
The album introduces new members, drummer Justin Brown (Thundercat, Flying Lotus, Herbie Hancock) and bassist Autry Fulbright II (…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead). The new rhythm section pushes the idea of punk into another dimension as they rip through 38 minutes that count down from T-minus ten to zero, fast, hard, and loose. As if these new elements are not enough to make you wonder if you’ve changed enough over the last eight years of your life, Coats manipulates, wrestles with, and blankets a number of these tracks (and any breathing space that might have separated them) with whispers and layers of electronics. It is a tell that the only other new element at play in this whole package is Jon Wahl of the seminal band Claw Hammer, whose free jazz sax playing illuminates the 4 improvisational interludes (F,L,S,D) as opposed to being a mere flashy flourish.
OFF! fly the flag of another Southern California punk architect, Raymond Pettibon on the cover of the new LP, the first we’re not in Los Angeles anymore full color job. W.T. Nelson (Bastard Noise, Geronimo) has created a gorgeous inside gatefold that serves to help chart out the alien language that the band was harnessing during these recordings. The chemistry is undeniable and OFF! have never sounded better. BETTER. This is no third act return to form ala Cohen or Bill Fay. This thing is unto itself, a synthesis of where they came. Sure, there are some Black Flag/Circle Jerks Morris ghosts in here, Burning Brides riffs, Thundercat calisthenics, and Trail of Dead burns, but that is just the skin of the thing. The track “War Above Los Angeles” is the cornerstone of the record, carrying all of the markings and scars of where the band was before, along with sprawling corners and otherworldly interplay by a group with phasers now set for stun. That is not to say the no nonsense 90 second furnace blasts aren’t in full effect on tracks like “Kill To Be Heard,” but as one of the prime movers of punk rock, singer Keith Morris says, “After making music for as long as I have, it was time to use a palette that includes lime green, turquoise, and magenta instead of the typical colors and shades that were involved in all of the other break neck and car chase scenarios. Miles Davis with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters as opposed to Milo Goes to College.”
The album stands alone, but it should be noted that the band is working on a film to accompany the record. Coats explains, “Since thinking of the album as a soundtrack to a weird sci-fi movie gave us permission to experiment, and the film explains, in a fantastical way, the creation of the album, they both go hand in hand as an overall art project.” The lyrics mirror the multi-signaling of the layers of music with signposts rich in Roswellian conspiracy theories, corporate murder in space, and red herrings dyed that way by the misery of the human race. There is a way out, and the record hits upon those possible escapes. The 2022 OFF! 1,2,3,4, is a build of subterranean howl that lifts off into the cosmos of Sun Ra and labelmates, The Stooges Fun House. OFF! is supercharged for takeoff in what has now been confirmed as humanity’s new year zero. Here they are, right now, in this century giving us Free LSD.
By Dennis Callaci