fugazi was such an incredibly big deal to me as a teenager, growing up as a punk kid in a small town. working part time in a record store and anticipating their next release, i remember so clearly getting my hands on their records, pouring over the liner notes, the needle hitting the first tracks of those records, and how truly awesome they were upon first listen. in my local punk scene i heard 13 songs and repeater ad nauseam. everybody was completely nuts for them both, and it wasn’t lost on me. 13 songs remains their top selling release (3 million, respectively), but for me the 3 records released in the heart of the 90’s perfectly punctuated my teenage years and still rule my world. here are my favorites from an all time favorite.
- steady diet of nothing. this was fugazi’s 2nd record, after the highly acclaimed release of the 2 eps that make up 13 songs, and repeater. the band received high praises and a fairly grueling tour schedule following those releases and they went into the studio in january of 1991 to record steady diet. the band decided to self-produce the album, instead of working again with producer ted nicely. the record was their first attempt at producing and mixing, and the band has said that they felt limited technically and therefore released a very minimal record. guy picciotto has said that there is a “flatness” to the performances and recording, but that paired with the droning guitars and highly political lyrics somehow works. this record is sparse and cold and sort of a great winter record. the lack of production is brilliant in context to the hyper-reverb, grunge-era butch vig or the monsters of rock, powder ballad bob rock sound that was permeating the airwaves at the time. personally, this record changed my life. it was released during my freshman year of high school and was such an understated, subtly angry and intelligent record to be in the hands of a just barely 14 year old. songs like dear justice letter, reclamation and kyeo made me follow the rabbit hole into the more corrupt side of the stories of the day. songs like latin roots, nice new outfit and long division still get me. i still completely love this record.
- in on the kill taker. this record may just be my favorite fugazi record. this one was released in the summer of 1993, and i remember so clearly the day that it came out. i remember unwrapping it, pulling out the jacket and feeling the soft yellow paper under my fingers. i remember the amazing type-writer script and collaged photos. i remember the slow build of facet squared. i remember all of it. oh! but enough about me. the band had originally gone to chicago to record with 90’s champion steve albini (fresh off of producing nirvana’s in utero), but the band ultimately didn’t like the recording and scrapped it. they went back to d.c. and back to repeater producer ted niceley and re-recorded the record. the band says that they gained some chops in the process, having to perfect the recording process by doing it all over again. it might be a result of having a producer again, but there’s a little more layering to the songs on this record. there are surf guitars, dancier beats, and it ends with (dare i say) a ballad. it is, however, still a somewhat grating, droning record not so unlike it’s predecessor. it still features down tuned guitars and a fair amount of noise, but it has moments from a broad spectrum that pierce through the noise. there are less topical and overtly political lyrics and more cinematic references, and this record is a little like a film soundtrack. this record was and is still hard to swallow for the repeater fanatics, but it is well worth a solid listen or 10.
- red medicine. after the release of in on the kill taker the band saw an incredible swell of attention, in part because of the high praises being sung about them by grunge gods like eddie vedder. while touring for kill taker the great ahmet ertegun of atlantic records offered the band $10million and their own subsidiary label to sign with atlantic. the band was also offered headlining status on the lollapalooza tour, but ultimately turned down both offers. the band instead retreated to a secluded country estate in connecticut and began working on red medicine. in the winter of 1995 they began recording, choosing again not to work with a producer, and proving to themselves and everyone that they had learned a thing or two about making records. this is a mighty fine hour for both ian mackaye and guy picciotto, and enough can’t be said about fugazi’s rhythm section. joe lally and brendan canty are the infectious freight train that delivers ian mackaye and the melodic bass and jazz drumming that carry guy picciotto’s histrionic, weaving melodies. this record is far more experimental and much looser than any of their previous records and ushered in a new era for them. the record has samples, different instrumentation, alternate tunings, and even features bassist joe lally on lead vocals on a track. the instrumental “version” features clarinet, dub rhythm and no guitars. this record is sort of like a big middle finger to everyone who wanted or expected anything from fugazi, without having to say a word. the solidness of the record speaks for itself. it’s such a fantastic response to the silly “it” band attention that the band had received, to go in and make their most diverse and experimental record, self-produced, and have it come out sounding so undeniably like fugazi.