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)