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Fugazi: The Argument

Album: The Argument

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Much has been written about Fugazi's staunch convictions, to the point where some basic facts can be rattled off by those with only a passing interest. It's true that the band is unbending in its dismissal of music-business conventions (releasing its own records, insisting on low ticket prices for its shows, and eschewing alliances with corporations of any kind), true that its lyrics are often politically charged, and true that it vocally opposes slam-dancing at its shows. What's too often ignored is Fugazi's music itself, a vigorous, visceral, and near-perfect example of what rock can be. As serious as its members may seem, this is a band that absolutely delights in creating music. Need proof? Here's The Argument, Fugazi's eighth and most expansive album yet, another linear step in its evolution. As early as 1993's In On The Kill Taker, the group began to stretch away from its straight-ahead rock, not necessarily mellowing, but incorporating slower and more contemplative moments. Remarkably, subsequent releases retained Fugazi's ever-present sense of urgency by substituting loud attacks with more pointed, restrained voices. But where each successive album seemed like a new page, The Argument feels like a brilliant new chapter. Singer-guitarist Ian Mackaye trades his neck-vein-bulging shout for a gentle singing voice on the disc's two most directly political songs, "Cashout" and the excellent title track; in lieu of raging against the machine, he's just as effective in making a compellingly downbeat case against it. His normal voice returns, of course—Fugazi wouldn't be the same without it—for the dynamic "Epic Problem" and "Ex-Spectator." The tracks on which singer-guitarist Guy Picciotto takes the lead range from the blisteringly cathartic ("Full Disclosure") to the broodingly mellow ("Life And Limb"), and as always, the two voices complement each other both inter- and intra-song. Bassist Joe Lally takes one turn at the microphone (on "The Kill"), but his real job, along with that of drummer Brendan Canty, is bringing out each song's fluid undercurrent. This dynamic, perfected over the course of a dozen years, makes The Argument crackle with energy and life. The "Furniture" single, released simultaneously, brings the band full circle: It sounds like Fugazi circa 1988, because it is. One of the group's first songs, it was never recorded until this year. That the disc's three tracks still sound fresh is a testament to a band that has done everything right by doing exactly what it wants. It's the sound of no compromise, bracing and pure.