The blog series created by Rob Janicke discussing a bunch of albums from the 1990s for you to argue with him about
Fugazi - Repeater (released on April 19, 1990 via Dischord Records. Produced by Fugazi and Ted Niceley)
Cover design by Fugazi and Dischord
For all of their influence, Fugazi never seems to be mentioned enough when the musical discussion is centered around the early 90s rock takeover. This is partially due to the band's legendary DIY ethic, reluctance to play the major label, commercial music game, and the fact that their music was too difficult to be labeled any particular style or genre, rendering themselves outcasts as far as radio and MTV were concerned.
Fugazi was born when Ian MacKaye, singer of one of the most important hardcore punk bands, Minor Threat, broke up after just three years as a group. MacKaye wanted to make music that was very different from the breakneck speed and chaos of hardcore and something more like the combination of "The Stooges with reggae" as he would tell music journalist Michael Azerrad when talking about the band's intended sound.
Joining MacKaye (singing as well as playing guitar) in his new musical endeavor was bassist Joe Lally, and ex-Dag Nasty drummer, Colin Sears. Soon after the trio began rehearsing, Sears would exit the band heading back to Dag Nasty and would be replaced by former Rites of Spring drummer, Brendan Canty. Wanting to add a second guitarist and singer to fill out the sound, Canty's Rites of Spring bandmate, Guy Picciotto, would round out Fugazi's lineup.
Recorded during the summer of 1989, Repeater, Fugazi's debut, full-length album, would eventually be released on MacKaye's own Dischord Records on April 19, 1990. The band's sound would in fact mimic the combination MacKaye had described he was looking for to Micheal Azerrad mentioned earlier. It certainly would borrow energy from The Stooges with the laid-back vibes of reggae music thanks to Lally's groove-laden bass lines along with Cant's infectious beats. Add in some jazz-influenced, polyrhythmic stylings and Fugazi laid claim to a new and interesting sound.
As is the case with most music, however, Fugazi took its cues from some bands who came before them. Bands such as Gang of Four, Wire, The Clash, Sonic Youth, Minutemen, and others were strong influences on the new band hailing from Washington, D.C.
The original release of Repeater contained 11 tracks of rhythmic yet sludgy, post-hardcore music that was both jarring and catchy at the same time. Just one month after the record came out on vinyl, it was then released on CD as Repeater + 3 Songs. This second release was the original album, combined with a three-song EP called 3 Songs, which the band recorded for Sub Pop Records in December of 1989.
Repeater hits with an odd ferocity that wasn't common in 1990. It was just...different. If anyone was expecting Minor Threat 2.0, they were sorely disappointed. Fugazi, and more specifically, Repeater, would change the game and help shape alternative music going forward.
Admittedly, it took me a few listens of Repeater before I figured out its genius. Whether it was their overtly political, cultural, and anti-sexism/anti-racism lyrical content, or the shared lead vocals between MacKaye and Picciotto, with vastly different styles and techniques, this was music I wasn't expecting, nor was it like anything I'd heard prior. In a word, Repeater was captivating.
Tracks like "Repeater", "Brendan #1", and "Greed" all have what would become the signature Fugazi weirdness with a hint of "this song could completely fall apart at any moment" feeling to them. Each song kept you on the edge of your seat wondering what was about to happen next, almost like a low-budget, psychological thriller movie you couldn't quite follow but wound up loving.
Standouts for me are the anti-consumerist anthem, "Merchandise", the galloping and infectious "Two Beats Off", and the turbulent "Styrofoam".
There's a murkiness to the music that when juxtaposed against the frankness of the lyrics gives Repeater a unique feel that is still palpable 33 years after we first heard it. The original album closer (before the EP 3 Songs was tacked on), "Shut the Door" is just the kind of quiet/heavy/quiet track that would wind up influencing countless bands who would reap commercial success starting just one-year post Repeater's release.
As was the case with Jane's Addiction's Ritual de lo Habitual, which I covered for Album #1 in this 90 For The 90s series, the music of Repeater would prove a crucial influence on bands that would come after. In the case of Repeater, bands such as Jawbox, At the Drive-In, Rage Against The Machine, Quicksand, Helmet, Nirvana, and more, were clearly influenced by Fugazi's sound from their debut record.
I've always had a theory, one I cannot prove, however, that Nirvana may have very likely come up with the title for their breakout album Nevermind, because of Repeater's fifth track, "Blueprint", where the word "nevermind" is uttered 16 times. There are several stories about Kurt's reasoning for calling their record Nevermind floating around that do not reference Fugazi, but I have to believe it played a role somewhere in the final decision.
Repeater is one of those records that every band seems to love, even if the masses don't know it all that well. It doesn't make a difference if you've been listening to it (or Fugazi for that matter) for 33 years or discovered them 33 days ago, Repeater is a timeless work of art that will always have its place as one of the most significant releases of the 1990s and beyond.
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