Few things perk the ears of local music fans more than rumors of a Fugazi reunion. The band was the harDCore scene’s most visible and influential unit, helping to shine a national spotlight on the DMV’s punk scene for the better part of 20 years.
But Fugazi have been on an indefinite hiatus for almost as long as they were active, and the likelihood of a reunion seems like a pretty long shot. That doesn’t mean their members are resting on their laurels. The latest example of this is The Messthetics, an instrumental project that reunites Fugazi’s potent rhythm section, drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally, with guitarist Anthony Pirog.
Before The Messthetics came to be, neither former Fugazi member was sitting around idly. Canty has kept busy producing records for other artists, performing in various bands, and doing film work for such notables as Eddie Vedder and Wilco. Lally returned to the area in 2015 after having spent eight years living in Rome, where, among other things, he immersed himself in the odd-metered rhythms of traditional Mediterranean music.
Pirog is the youngest member of the band, though the Northern Virginia native has been a familiar voice in the local scene for some time. He’s well-respected in D.C.’s jazz and experimental music communities and has earned critical praise with his own ensemble and with Janel & Anthony, a duo that includes his wife, cellist Janel Leppin. Pirog also received positive notice for his participation in recent concerts held in tribute to D.C. guitar legend Danny Gatton.
In keeping with Dischord Records’ DIY aesthetic, Canty recorded The Messthetics debut in the band’s rehearsal space, and its first single, “Serpent Tongue,” snaked its way online in January.
The 5/4 meter on “Serpent Tongue,” combined with the distorted guitar riff, lends the song a progressive lilt that permeates throughout several tracks on the album. Other songs that take on a fusion bent with a punk intensity include “Quantum Path” and “Crowds and Power,” the latter of which is the sole muscular tune in the album’s much less aggressive back half.
Regardless of the song’s mood, Canty and Lally anchor the material with an insistence that propels the music forward. The boom-thwack of the drums and the brooding bassline on “Mythomania,” the opening track, have a locomotive effect over which Pirog is free to explore his instrument’s sonic palette. Similarly, the syncopated groove on “Once Upon A Time” gives structure to the languid melodies floating above it.
Pirog is a master at using effects to manipulate his sound, but the tasteful way in which he deploys his enhancements is what sets him apart from most pedal stomping guitarists. He tends to use his sweeteners in a subtle way that adds color to the more industrial songs and soft texture during the record’s quiet moments. All of this comes together on “The Inner Ocean,” the album’s longest track. At six minutes, the song slowly builds to a crescendo before it comes back down to calmer waters.
In many ways, The Messthetics split the difference between what one would expect from a sonic alchemist like Pirog and a rhythm section most often associated with the punk world. The result is hard to categorize, but the comparisons to various power-trios of yesteryear and ’70s prog-rock make sense. There’s a lot for the listener to digest because these are three veteran musicians who know their strengths and know how to utilize them to maximum effect.