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Keith Morris, one of the pioneers of the Los Angeles hardcore punk scene as original lead singer with Black Flag and founder of the Circle Jerks, returned to his roots in fast, loud, confrontational music (and launched an unexpected comeback) with the group OFF! Joined by a cast of punk veterans, Morris brought the chaos, speed, and vitriol of his earlier days to the frenzied one-minute blasts that made up OFF!'s self-titled 2012 full-length. 2014's Wasted Years was a similar exercise in hardcore-style ranting, and 2022's Free LSD was a change-up for the group, featuring more challenging song structures, free-form psychedelic passages, and a running time over 30 minutes. OFF!'s story began when Keith Morris and guitarist Greg Hetson began mapping out plans to make a new Circle Jerks album, and Dimitri Coats of the Burning Brides was brought in to produce the sessions. Neither Morris nor Coats were happy with the material that had been proposed for the album, and the two began writing a fresh batch of songs. Hetson didn't see eye to eye with Coats as producer, so Morris and Coats decided to use their songs for a project of their own, and formed OFF! as a vehicle for their material. With Morris on vocals and Coats on guitar, the new group's lineup became complete when Steven McDonald (of Redd Kross) agreed to play bass and Mario Rubalcaba (ex-Hot Snakes and Rocket from the Crypt) signed on as drummer. OFF! made their live debut at the 2010 South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin and received enthusiastic reviews for their urgent, energetic songs, which more than one reporter compared to early Black Flag. The band made their recording debut in 2010 with a four-song 7" vinyl EP; three more followed, which were collected in a box set, The First Four EPs, by Vice Records, who also released the material on CD in 2011. Soon after, the band rushed back to the studio to make a new self-titled full-length, which appeared in May 2012. The group maintained a busy touring schedule (occasionally taking time off so Morris could tour with his other band, a handful of Black Flag alumni performing as FLAG), but in 2013 they began work on their second album. Recorded on an eight-track analog reel-to-reel setup in their practice space, Wasted Years was released in April 2014. Five years later, OFF! announced they were working towards a documentary-styled film and accompanying album, both titled Watermelon. Presented as what the band called a "sci-fi punk rockumentary," the film portrayed the band breaking up during a rocky 2016 tour and going through some unexpected twists and turns afterwards. OFF! used internet crowdfunding to help raise money to shoot Watermelon, and both the film and album were planned for a 2020 release. Various obstacles prevented them from sticking to their original release schedule, including the COVID-19 pandemic and Morris and Greg Hetson staging a successful Circle Jerks reunion tour. When OFF! were next heard from in 2021, they had recorded a cover of Metallica's "Holier Than Thou" for the epic-scale tribute album The Metallica Blacklist. The recording also introduced a new lineup for the band, as Steven McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba had dropped out, and bassist Autry Fulbright II (of You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead) and drummer Justin Brown (whose resume includes gigs with Terence Blanchard, Esperanza Spalding, and Thundercat) took their places. In September 2022, while the Watermelon film remained unreleased, a third album from OFF!, Free LSD, was released by Fat Possum Records (who also reissued their back catalog). Featuring several abstract electronic passages, saxophone wailing from Jon Wahl, and ten (out of sixteen) songs over two minutes in length, it was the group's most ambitious work to date, and they supported the release with a twenty-six date U.S. tour.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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