What do you do as an encore after having fronted hardcore punk’s twin towers, Circle Jerks and Black Flag? If you’re vocalist and lyricist Keith Morris, you burrow deeper into the underground, maintain your punk cred, and manipulate your now-tempered—not “mellowed,” man, don’t say “mellowed”—aggressive tendencies with wiry electronics and free-flowing saxophones as OFF!.
Not new in any sense (OFF! has been making records for over a decade now), Morris and the loosely knotted ensemble’s only other constant, guitarist Dimitri Coats (of Burning Brides and Mark Lanegan Band renown), hold their rage between their knees and expand outward from their rough, fast exterior without losing their fury or favor in hardcore branding (how could that ever happen, what with their continued use of unofficial member Raymond Pettibon’s album covers?) on their fourth full-length, Free LSD.
What this album does is not so much turn solely to avant-garde jazz with saxophonist Jon Wahl, space-conscious bassist Autry Fulbright II, and Thundercat/Esperanza Spalding drummer Justin Brown rounding out the cast, but it takes free jazz’s colors and textures as another paint for OFF!’s fresh palette. Not unlike saxophonist/organist John Zorn’s scalding electronic work and latter-day John Lurie, Morris and Coats’ crunchiest ravers are given a concentric-circling intensity, along with—shock—most of the new record’s songs going beyond the group’s usual minute-man mark.
There’s more pacing to the racing of loud, hard tracks such as “Black Widow Group” and “Slice Up the Pie.” And while Morris has not (and will not, surely) given up on his hardcore roots in social/activist rants such as “Invisible Empire” and “Kill to Be Heard,” his words—like his vocals: not screaming but singing—have expanded into some rich, weird metaphorical spaces on Free LSD, so as to match the magic of its new music. Old dogs, new tricks.