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22 July 2015

Fugazi - 'The Argument' (Dischord)

The paradox about Fugazi is that as their records get technically better (meaning, more interesting, more distinct, more experimental and more mature) they become less enjoyable to listen to. Ah, I'm a product of my age, what can I say -- to me, the peak is somewhere between 1993's In On the Kill-Taker and 1995's Red Medicine (so, approximately 1994 - the year of In Utero and Bee Thousand). I'm probably still just kicking my pre-teen intelligence failure, because instead of going to see Fugazi in 1993, my MTV-addled brain chose to see fucking Porno for Pyros on the same night. I got my chance in '95 in a much larger venue, and suffered my first blast of tinnitus afterwards, from which I've never fully recovered. The next time I attempt a quiet walk through the forest and can't escape the ringing/hiss inside me, I'll think back to Guy Picciotto flipping out during 'Bed For the Scraping' 20 years ago and re-evaluate "was it worth it?". Anyway. I bought this record the day it was released and probably have played it twice since; this listen, here is like hearing a lost album by an old favourite, which is I guess what it is, though lost in plain sight. By 2001 I had moved on - it was all avant-drone and neo-psych and discovering the post-everything world. Anyway, you get my point - Fugazi didn't change, I did. Or, rather, Fugazi changed too but I wasn't listening; this album was bought mostly out of loyalty. Of course, it's good. It starts with some musique concrete, but no, it doesn't go that far, instead settling into a mid-tempo indie-punk sound with occasional moment of fire, what we now describe as Fugazi-esque. Guy sounds a bit like a cat being swung by its tail on 'Cashout', which follows the 'Public Witness Program'-esque precedent of track 2 being a Picciotto-sung stomper that most of their albums seem to have. Here, it's a tad bit slower, and the 'anthemic' elements are a wooooo-sound that could be background vocals but is actually just a droning guitar lead, I think. Actually, this sounds more like a classic "Fugazi" album than anything after In On the Kill-Taker, or at least side 1. 'Strangelight' opens side two with a moody, arepeggiated guitar line, and when it turns into a rock song, it resists the impulse to go for it. The overall sound of Dischord records really shifted in the late 90s, thinking about bands such as Faraquet and Smart Went Crazy, none of whom I really paid much attention to at the time but now strike me as brilliant, and almost forgotten.The Argument remarkably incorporates this influence while also synthesising it with the more aggressive roots; it's like the post-rock parts of Faraquet are left behind and the intangibles bleed through. There's no red meat for the kids (such as 'Great Cop' on Kill-Taker) but the evolution is felt, and the 'experimentation' is still quite palatable. The formula gets back on track with "Oh", where Joe Lally's bass is dominant and almost, I daresay, 'funky'. There's a fifth member (the guy from All Scars) present on most songs, not credited as a full band member but playing a second drumkit and percussion on other tunes, such as the aforementioned 'Strangelight'. It's not always easy to hear him, or know what he's really adding, but For many of us, who abandoned Fugazi by 2001, The Argument really comes across like a bizarro version of something familiar, and hindsight affords the space to start appreciating. Competing against the infinite streams of other tones available to these ears (and brain) is the true challenge.