Monday, July 28, 2008

Fugazi - Margin Walker EP

Fugazi's second release, first released as Dischord 35 and then as the latter half of the 13 Songs album along with their first EP, 7 Songs (posted here). I'm almost exclusively a fan of Fugazi's earlier works (Steady Diet of Nothing and before) and as often is with such predilections, the very first record is the one which retains the most immediacy. That said, Margin Walker is clearly an artistic step above 7 Songs, a further progression in the early Fugazi sound. The FLEX discography sums it up as "Similar to the first 12", but noisier and less catchy. Also great, but harder to get into."

Likewise, Allmusic state "The equally excellent follow-up to the Fugazi EP was initially released in 1989 on vinyl, and was paired with its predecessor on CD shortly after its release during the same year. Dischord continued to keep the vinyl in print on its own, even retaining the rather gross headshot of Ian MacKaye on the cover."

"The problem with this kind of "transcendence" is that's hard to isolate and explain. ... If I fumble for a way to explain why Fugazi's "Margin Walker" is so exciting, it's just too easy to latch on to phrases like "I'm going to set myself on fire," and break them down for their shock and metaphorical values.

Would I still get a charge out of "Margin Walker" if Guy Picciotto and Ian MacKaye were singing about the deliciousness of Coca-Cola? Hard to say. ... Certainly there's enough spark in the music itself that the lyrics' stammering expression of painful, possibly all-consuming, possibly criminal desire may not be necessary. But just like the right title on an abstract painting can give a museumgoer something to focus on, so the right lyrics can seem to give a transcendent song a direct purpose. It completes the fantasy: I'm not just all-worked-up, I'm all-worked-up because there's something I want, and I might be willing to hurt people to get it.

Ultimately though, even offering a detailed explanation for why "Margin Walker" gets my blood pumping won't persuade anyone who doesn't hear it the same way. If my favorite comedy doesn't make you laugh, there's no way you're going to think it's a good comedy. If The Arcade Fire's The Neon Bible doesn't make you feel panicked and fragile and a little bit angry, you're not going to buy my arguments for why it's a great album..."

Noel Murray, Popless Week 15: Taking You Higher

The title track of Margin Walker opens, attention-grabbingly, with a combination of shuddering, plunging guitar and an insistent rhythm. Lyrically, it's enveloped in the psychology and metaphysics of most Fugazi songs - "Untraceable, untranslatable, I can't explain all I ever wanted to do/Trajectory passing right through me threads my needle sends it right to you" - spat out in Guy Piccioto's furious delivery. 'And The Same' continues on with an even heavier, but calmly circular rhythm fighting with swinging guitar chords and Ian MacKaye's yearning, reaching vocals.

As it dissolves, pendulum-like, into "Action. Reaction. Action. Reaction" the next song begins, initially, in a more conventional punk style. But 'Burning Too' shifts quickly into almost heavy dub/reggae-like rhythm, lyrics half-spoken, and interspersed with increasingly frantic shouts. Here, Piccioto and MacKaye sing together, trading lines between their distinct but complementary styles, before joining in the final, visceral exhortation of 'Right here. Right now. Do it. Now. Do it'.

The second side starts with 'Provisional', a slower, more spacious Fugazi song - 'lulled to sleep under clear expansive skies' - but unwinding and winding itself into the listener, worming its speech into the ear - 'hoping every slip's not a slide'. It's a duality of tension, shaped from contrasting parts and hung together in every moment on the beat of a drum or the sweep of a guitar. 'Lockdown' is more frantic hardcore, but deconstructed and reformed into knife-cuts of post-punk noise, again over Guy's furious vocals.

From this, 'Promises' is the peak, the closure of the 13 Songs Fugazi sound; and presumably, the onward link to the style of the full-length Repeater. Part post-hardcore soundscape, part meditation, and a larger part quiet-loud dynamics. Epic and complex, it intertwines slow picking, louder crescendoes, spoken-word, and sidestepping, shifting rhythms; leading finally to the explosive fury and slowly unravelled energy of 'Promises. Words.'

Fugazi - Margin Walker (tracks from the 13 Songs CD)

Buy Margin Walker from Dischord (12", cassette or digital)

eMusic - 13 Songs


cretin said...

early fugazi is the best fugazi, but I still find their later stuff listenable, if occasionally lacking in the same spark that drove their earlier albums.

cretin said...

also... what exactly is that on mackaye's face there? because if he "don't fuck" (his words), then he certainly finds an odd place to draw the line.

gabbagabbahey said...

who knows? who wants to know, really? nah, my guess is shaving cream or a cream pie (the non-figurative sort).

the photo was taken by Tomas Squip (of Beefeater), by the way.

as for early Fugazi, it is undeniably great, but the later stuff gets more of the critical (and fan) acclaim. It's like Radiohead in that sense (I've had later Fugazi described to me as Fugazi gone Radiohead, in fact). And yeah, it's there, but it just doesn't grab me like the early stuff does.

I'm thinking of listening to the two EPs and Repeater until saturation point, and then move on to the later works again. I always reckoned there would be a time when I'd appreciate them better.

cretin said...

The Argument is probably the best of their later albums (it even features my all-time favourite fugazi song, "Cashout"), as it manages to regain some of the urgency and passion, as well as a newfound sense of maturity which pops up occasionally, that they lost for most of the 90's.

As for the Radiohead-Fugazi comparison, I'd certainly agree that there are similarities in how both bands started with something more raw and straight-forward and evolved into highly experimental groups, but the main difference (for me, at least) is that Radiohead's music got better while Fugazi seemed to be forgetting what it was that made them great in the first place.

blend77 said...

I have to disagree with the idea that Fugazi's later stuff was weaker. Though nostalgia dictates that the first few albums are my favorite, I think that Argument was quite awesome. End Hits has some amazing tracks and Red Medicine, my least favorite also has some of their best tracks.

I had sort of recently decided to buy all of my Fugazi albums on vinyl. I had them on cassette or CD, and later replaced what I had on cassette with CD, but recently I have been purchasing the vinyl. Unfortunately Repeater is out of print on vinyl, so I am looking for it for under 20 bucks.

This one, Margin Walker, is still in print, which is weird, but I have to buy this one too. Burning Too and Promises are two of my favorite Fugazi tracks.

gabbagabbahey said...

I try to sit on the fence, because I know that Fugazi's later output is really good, and also that I don't like listening to it much!

I bought these two EPs from Spin Dizzy Records in the George's Street Arcade, for anyone reading this in Dublin. But of course you can get them pretty cheap from Dischord direct.

Blend, I assume they will keep Repeater in print? I know where I can get a loan of it, probably, as I'm told it sounds really good on vinyl - and that's from someone without the usual 'warm vinyl' mentality.

Also, nothing like a discography on vinyl. If you can afford it, that is.

Anonymous said...

I have Margin Walker on cassette; that's how I think it was originally released. I don't recall seeing it on vinyl until much later. Am I wrong on this?