SST AND SYMPATHY
Ageism and rockism are strange and inextricable bedfellows, limbs inconveniently entangled. Conventional wisdom dictates that, more or less, rock n’ roll belongs to the young and furious. Time serves to either tame or shame. Rod Stewart makes blue-eyed soul for the cataract set, while Alice Cooper’s continued desperate insistence on eyeliner and leather appears even more embarrassing than his golf get-ups. With some three decades since their respective debuts, neither Keith Morris nor J. Mascis ought to make credible music for expanding audiences. The former SST labelmates should be coasting on the classics, something Dinosaur Jr. did rather effectively at last year’s Bug anniversary gigs. Yet they persevere, with new projects seemingly ill-suited for men of a certain age.
Why, then, are Morris’ paternal punks Off! so sensational? The potent quartet — rounded out by Burning Brides’ Dimitri Coats, Redd Kross bassist Steven Shane McDonald, and drummer extraordinaire Mario Rubalcaba — follow up quasi-collection The First Four EPs with this eponymous quasi-debut. Reference packed, from Darby Crash namechecking to in-the-know conjuring of “You Bet We Have Something Against You,” the lyrics eschew hardcore-of-yore romanticism and instead seek third rails. Where contemporary Jello Biafra and his pun-tastic Guantanamo School Of Medicine seek to bash and throttle us into socialist submission, Off! make terse, concise statements of sociopolitical (“Borrow And Bomb”) and personal import (“I Got News For You”). Has so little actually changed since Morris first hoisted the black flag or circle jerked? After seventeen minutes in punk rock heaven, we’re compelled to wonder how hell could be any worse.
Following the acoustic wistfulness of 2011’s solo venture Several Shades Of Why, Mascis ventures with childhood buds Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar deep into that most wretched of rock tropes: the jam band. Sure, Dino can hardly mask an affinity for such indulgences, and in the context of a live performance an audience accepts such staged spontaneity. But Heavy Blanket doesn’t dip a toe; it plunges headfirst into the noodly abyss. Indeed, this is a gross display of chops that only a living guitar god such as Mascis has the nebulous right to subject anyone to. If you’ve ever listened to the album version of “Start Choppin'” and wished for the ending to never cease, “Blockheads” is what you deserve, if not what you really, truly want. Along that tenuous tendon that connects the likes of Stewart to the likes of Cooper, Mascis might want to take up golf. Or eyeliner.