Thursday, March 22, 2018

This Is Not A Fugazi Reunion: A Look At The Debut Album From The Messthetics

In an inexplicable bit of business, the very same culture that allowed a lot of young people to pick up instruments and form punk bands in this city also allowed a whole lot of space within that same scene for musical exploration. In other cities, there would have been little tolerance for such pursuit of music-for-music's-sake, with the practitioners being labeled traitors to the cause. Here, in Washington, D.C., the scene -- an admittedly insular one -- fostered such a sense of community, that when acts like Fugazi, Smart Went Crazy, and Lungfish went in directions that veered slightly from the styles of the early days of harDCore, the bands were encouraged, and praised for doing so. And, consequently, a band like Fugazi was able to make music that had a message, but also music that saw a more intricate form of post-punk being introduced to indie listeners in this region, and the nation at large.

And now, with the release of The Messthetics, out on Dischord on Friday, half of Fugazi has teamed up with a guitarist who's entirely comfortable skating along the edges of heavy fusion and prog-rock. The Messthetics -- Brendan Canty on drums, Joe Lally on bass, and Anthony Pirog on guitar -- make music that's as far from, say, early Fugazi, as Minor Threat was from, say, Hawkwind. And yet, one could draw up a Venn diagram of harDCore fans who'll be drawn to this, and prog-rock fans who'll love it too, and a whole swatch of overlap indicating the presence of the very great kind of openness in this city's music scene that I was describing up above.

The Messthetics is, of course, a blazing affair, with these 3 players unleashing their talents in the service of a pure music. A number like "Serpent Tongue" sees Pirog unfurling a brittle, percolating hook over a downright-brutal rhythmic attack from Canty and Lally underneath it. The effect is reminiscent of Eighties King Crimson without the oppressive sense that the players are trying to show off. Elsewhere, the epic "Quantum Path" sees Pirog veer into Vai territory as Canty drops hard jazz hits on the kit behind him. On a track like this, it's up to Joe Lally to anchor the tune, his bass-work unwinding the melodic thread that ties the other players' efforts together. "Mythomania" and "Crowds and Power" offer up similarly-ferocious bits of music, the players working together like the best fusion band you've never heard of, and one without a lot of baggage, just a desire to burn through the music.

Still, for all that obvious musical force, lots of what's here is also subtle and nearly-introspective. The lovely "Once Upon a Time" uses a few near-ambient moments, and Lally's bass-pulses, to deliver a tune that's far more inward-looking than one might expect when reading about this band's debut, while the expansive "The Inner Ocean" sees the trio relax and explore a soundscape markedly more languid than others on this record. The 2 cuts suggest the power of this band to hold things back, and restrain themselves when need be.

The Messthetics should appeal to fans of late-period Fugazi records, sure, as well as the sort of listener who bought up the early Beauty Pill releases on Dischord. And, yeah, the record seems the obvious point of progression for wildly-talented D.C. legend Anthony Pirog, but, significantly, The Messthetics will appeal to listeners beyond just fans of the previous work of these 3 musicians. And that's why it's such an important release. For a scene that was seen by some outsiders as far too restrictive, D.C. has allowed so much talent to flourish in unique ways that The Messthetics can be seen as sort of a reminder of how far harDCore progressed in this city, and how far it can still go.

The Messthetics by The Messthetics is out on Friday via Dischord.

More details on The Messthetics via the band's official Facebook page.

[Photo: Antonia Tricarico]