Messthetics (Members of Fugazi)
Friday 1st February 2019
Bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty—the rhythm section of Fugazi—team up with experimental D.C. guitarist Anthony Pirog for an economic, emotionally resonant instrumental power-trio record.
The music of Fugazi presented a series of overlapping conversations—between punk and funk, aggression and experimentation, the personal and the political. And those internal tensions became manifest in the frisson between the band’s two caustic yet complementary voices: the blare of Ian MacKaye and the sneer of Guy Picciotto. But if Mackaye and Picciotto were the de facto stars of the show, then bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty were the directors in the control room engaged in their own off-mic dialogue. In their 16 years together as Fugazi’s rhythm section, Lally and Canty developed a personality of their own every bit as distinct as the band’s dueling mouthpieces. When you think of any given Fugazi song, often the first thing that comes to mind is the band’s authoritative but mischievous sense of groove.
So when you hear the stalking, bass-powered backbeat that kicks off the Messthetics’ debut album, it’s like listening in on old friends shootin’ the shit. The Messthetics is Lally and Canty’s first venture together since Fugazi went on hiatus in 2003, after which Lally decamped to Italy for the better part of a decade, while Canty became an in-demand soundtrack composer, side player for Bob Mould, and frontman for the short-lived art-pop outfit Deathfix. But if their rhythmic repartee in the Messthetics is the same as it ever was, it serves as the foundation for a dramatically different construct than Fugazi. While Fugazi fearlessly embraced un-punk influences—dub, piano balladry, musique concrete—shredding was not one of them; they were so self-conscious about indulging in a little guitar noodling that they gave their song with lots of arpeggios the tongue-in-cheek title of “Arpeggiator.”
With the Messthetics, Lally and Canty defer to Anthony Pirog, a dexterous guitarist and a mainstay in the Washington D.C. avant-jazz scene, who’s given free rein to unleash his six-string splatter atop Lally and Canty’s propulsion. But lest that combination suggest a post-hardcore version of Surfing With the Alien, the album is more an instrumental power-trio record that values economy and emotional resonance over technical wizardry and structural complexity.