The OFF! Albums Ranked

Listening to OFF!, you’d be hard pressed to place the band’s output as being strictly from within the past two decades. The supergroup’s classic hardcore sound is channeled straight through its members from a number of other punk, alt, and hard rock acts, including frontman Keith Morris of Black Flag and the Circle Jerks. Releasing four albums in the 12 years since 2010, OFF! has practiced a musical style that was at one time, of course, pioneering and envelope-pushing, but was later perhaps seen as out-of-date. But now, it has come full circle to being vital, refreshing, and out-of-step with genre expectations. OFF! just rocks, man, and to make that point, I’ve written about their records here.

Favorite track: “Zero Hour”

FIRST FOUR EPS was in fact OFF!’s first album, an initially physical collection of four vinyl 7-inches. The sixteen tracks together only come out to a 17 minute runtime, however, an indicator of the kind of straight ahead hardcore that OFF! is so good at producing. “Zero Hour” is a bonus track that now shows up on streaming service releases of FIRST FOUR EPS, which I’m grateful for because it’s the record’s best song. In evaluating OFF!’s albums and the songs on each one of them, it’s not a matter of dissecting wildly different approaches to music. But there is a tone and (I hesitate to say) deepening that has been developed across the band’s discography. FIRST FOUR EPS was and is a wild statement of classic hardcore, but better was yet to come.

Favorite track: “Slice up the Pie”

FREE LSD is without a doubt OFF!’s most “ambitious” album to date, their latest at the time of this writing and the impetus for this piece. It also came more than eight years after the release of WASTED YEARS, the group’s biggest gap between records, and will be accompanied by a feature film of the same name at some point soon, apparently. So with all that being said: it’s not like FREE LSD is some kind of avant-garde concept thing, or a prog epic, or anything much more than the hardcore sound OFF! was playing before their hiatus. But there is a lyrical theme that illustrates the band’s anti-establishment message effectively enough and the songs are slightly longer; just enough to allow for some electronic and guitar whines leading into and out of certain songs. These little interludes are just ephemera surrounding FREE LSD’s bigger sound, which also lets up on the totally mind-thrashing speed of its predecessors. Morris, at 67, sounds incredible on the record, and with two new members (Autry Fullbright II on bass and Justin Brown on drums), OFF! is by no means washed up. FREE LSD, by a fraction, just doesn’t have the same kind of verve or even catchy hooks (I know, I’m not seeking pop choruses here, but a number of OFF songs elsewhere rattle around in my brain for some time) as the albums to follow on this list.

Favorite track: “Wiped Out”

OFF!’s self-titled album is a wild whirlwind of hardcore right out of the gate with opener and best track “Wiped Out.” The 15 tracks that follow it — amounting to just 15 minutes of pounding drums, Morris’ drawling scream, ever-present chunky riffs, and whining guitar — are nearly faultless. The menace behind some songs, like “King Kong Brigade,” is palpable, while others, such as the aforementioned “Wiped Out,” are a bit more playful in their briefly repetitive swing from chord to chord. OFF! was able to up the ante of FIRST FOUR EPS with a surprisingly even rawer approach and stronger songwriting talents from Morris and guitarist/Burning Brides frontman Dimitri Coats.

Favorite track: “Void You Out”

Once again, it’s worth mentioning OFF!’s commitment to a great number of tracks in as little time as possible. WASTED YEARS is made up of 16 tracks coming in at 23 minutes, which sure, makes it an epic compared to the brevity of OFF! and FIRST FOUR EPS (but not FREE LSD, which comes in at 20 tracks and 38 minutes). All that really does, however, is allow for the same kind of hardcore punk to be played a little bit more. OFF! has not been a band that experiments, some minor evolutions on FREE LSD notwithstanding. But if you’re looking for great hardcore music, especially new hardcore music that sounds like it came out of the 1980s in all the best ways, these dudes are your guys. WASTED YEARS was the last release with OFF!’s original line up (Coats is still with the band, but bassist Steven Shane McDonald of Redd Kross and drummer Mario Rubalcaba of Rocket from the Crypt/Hot Snakes are not) and as of now it’s the apotheosis of their harsh yet enlivening style. This album also succeeds in providing just enough variation in tone and tempo across its tracks to make it feel the richest in the band’s discography, and it should be your entry point into OFF!, if you feel so inclined. For my money, WASTED YEARS is the best thing you could hear from them at the time of this writing, but if you want more, rest assured that everything else OFF! has created isn’t far off from its gold standard.

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