There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
I’ll spare you the it’s-kinda-rad-how-they’re-still-together-and-they-don’t-suck bullshit. I’ll even spare you the where-would-hiphop-be-without-them? crap. I’ll just talk about how the women of the Bronx’s pioneering punk-funk outfit ESG have a new record out. I promise. Though Renee still sings and sis Valerie still drums, the melodic instruments are now played by the next generation of Scroggins girls, daughters Chistelle and Nicole. But very little has changed about the band’s music: It’s still driven by simple bass lines, simpler guitar parts, and rhythms that would make James Brown blush, even as he docked the drummer. Indeed, the differences between the new Step Off and the band’s earlier recordings are so tiny that it might as well be 1981 all over again. There are no overthought electronic beats or Korg-y whooshes here, no drum ‘n’ bass or two-step influences, no laptop glitches. But so what? ESG was doing the destroy-rock-from-within thing almost 20 years before Radiohead did, and it’s taken everyone else so long to catch up that the essential formula works as well today as it did then. “Be Good to Me” offers advice to a lover ESG-style, surrounding Renee’s proclamation that “If you’re good to me, baby/I’ll be good to you” with spare, slowly swelling guitar lines and lazy, interlocked polyrhythms. “My Street” grooves with a cowbell, some George of the Jungle tom work, and Renee’s insistent, pissed-off, almost-sexy vocals. And the drumless “It’s Not Me” proves that the Scrogginses need nothing more than a four-note bass line and Renee’s voice to create something danceable. If the band’s production is marginally glossier than it was in the early ’80s, it’s still subtle enough to emphasize only what really matters: a couple of bass plucks, a well-timed snare hit, a cymbal ticking out a beat that’ll do the dance-floor set just as well as the latest from Dieselboy. ESG has always been about restraint, but when it comes to making the kids move, it’s never been about holding back. —Mike Kanin