To some casual observers, the entire sprawling expanse of D.C. punk boils down to a single song: “Straight Edge,” a 45-second track that inadvertently launched a hardcore subgenre modeled after its anti-intoxication message. It’s a potent statement, but tellingly, it’s one of the lesser tracks on the immortal self-titled 1981 debut seven-inch by Minor Threat, which was later bundled together with its follow-up, In My Eyes, and two tracks from 1982’s Flex Your Head comp. The eight songs on the original EP are simply as good as hardcore gets, with the musicians — guitarist Lyle Preslar, bassist Brian Baker, and drummer and Dischord co-founder Jeff Nelson — bringing a paradoxically relaxed, hard-grooving feel to their breakneck tempos. Skillful arrangement choices, like the way Baker often starts a song with a brief solo pass through the opening riff, build fruitful tension, making the subsequent full-band kick-in feel that much more explosive. MacKaye sounds like exactly what he was, a fed-up teenager railing against religion (“Filler”), alcohol-fueled aggression (“Bottled Violence”), all manner of fakers and shit-talkers (“I Don’t Wanna Hear It,” “Seeing Red”) and even a blowhard with a Napoleon complex (“Small Man, Big Mouth”). The band’s eponymous song, an anthem about embracing the energy and freedom of youth, shows how effective they were even at slow tempos, pointing the way to their more varied later output, including the brilliant In My Eyes title track, which revs up and implodes before launching into a menacing midtempo wind-up, setting the stage for one of Minor Threat’s most furious speed bursts. Their sound would only grow richer and more diverse on 1983’s Out of Step, Minor Threat’s lone full-length, but the tracks collected here laid the bedrock for one of the most impressive and influential legacies in the history of the American underground.
“Wouldn’t it be wild if we made our own record?”
It was mid-1980, and the Teen Idles, a young hardcore band from Washington, D.C., had just returned from playing shows on the West Coast. As recounted in Dance of Days, Mark Andersen and Mark Jenkins’ definitive history of the city’s punk scene, the members were hanging out at Yesterday and Today, a local record shop they frequented, when one of them made this seemingly far-fetched suggestion. The store’s owner, Skip Groff, also a DIY label owner, informed them that their idea was actually very much within reach. Groff soon brought them to Inner Ear — a home studio that area engineer Don Zientara had set up in the basement of his Arlington, VA, home — to record and guided them through the vinyl-pressing process.
The Idles would soon decide to call it quits, but they followed through on the release anyway, coming up with a label name and, in December 1980, issuing their Minor Disturbance EP as Dischord No. 1.
“We felt like, well, this was really important for us and for our friends,” Teen Idles bassist Ian MacKaye told Tom Mullen of the Washed Up Emo podcast in 2019, looking back on the origins of that first 7-inch, “so let’s make something you can hold in your hand. It was a document.”
At the time, Dischord itself was just a vehicle for that document. But soon MacKaye and Jeff Nelson, drummer in both the Idles and a new band, Minor Threat, that the two had formed, noticed that a scene was growing around them. So they put out another document, a 7-inch by S.O.A., featuring their friend Henry Garfield, soon to be known as Black Flag frontman Henry Rollins, and suddenly the label was a going concern.
In the decades that followed, Dischord’s reach and renown would eclipse not just that of the band that launched it but that of almost any other independent record label in history. Its ethical dealings — no artist contracts, fixed album pricing printed on each release to ward off shady markups — became legendary. But even more so was the music. At first it was hardcore punk, as captured on early singles and the seminal Flex Your Head comp, but throughout the ‘80s the roster evolved at warp speed, inventing new forms of underground rock in real time. MacKaye moved on from Minor Threat to the more reflective and varied band Embrace and, later, the boundaryless sound world of the now-iconic Fugazi. Meanwhile, his peers took their own paths. Nelson, the label’s co-owner, focused on the more tuneful indie rock of Three and the High Back Chairs, while others, including future Fugazi members Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty, unwittingly helped to write the blueprint for so-called emo with the cathartic, soul-baring Rites of Spring.
A whole generation of visionary post-hardcore followed, ranging from the arty (Shudder to Think, Nation of Ulysses) to the ferocious (Circus Lupus, Hoover) to the downright mystical (Lungfish). The label’s pace slowed somewhat around the turn of the century, with Fugazi going on hiatus in 2003 and archival releases becoming as common as new ones. But new acts, including the playfully bizarre dance-punk project Edie Sedgwick, nuanced art-pop outfit Beauty Pill, and subtle yet mighty two-pieces the Evens (MacKaye and drummer-vocalist Amy Farina) and French Toast (former Nation of Ulysses drummer James Canty and scene vet Jerry Busher, who had worked in bands including Allscars and the Spinanes) carried the torch. Recently a new wave of reunited acts and fresh collaborations — including Soul Side, Messthetics, Coriky and Hammered Hulls — have helped to make the roster sound as committed as ever. With close to 200 releases to its name (as well as many titles co-released with other labels), Dischord is both an invaluable archive, constantly growing via titles like this newly announced set of Minor Threat outtakes, and a story still being told.
Here are 20 titles that span the catalog, offered with the acknowledgement that dozens more entries would be needed to illustrate its full breadth.
At the time of its release, the Flex Your Head comp was a document of a scene that was just getting off the ground; 40 years on, it’s effectively a high school yearbook filled with snapshots of future punk heroes. So many key Dischord names are here: Ian MacKaye, appearing with future Minor Threat bandmate Jeff Nelson in the band that launched the label, the scrappy Teen Idles, whose lovably goofy “I Drink Milk” opens the album and who, like several other groups featured here, had already broken up by the time it came out; S.O.A. snarler Henry Garfield, soon to rechristen himself Henry Rollins and take on the world with Black Flag; the Untouchables’ Alex MacKaye (Ian’s younger brother) and Eddie Janney, whose memorable speed burst here “Nic Fit” would later be covered by Sonic Youth, and who went on together to the Faith and separately to Ignition, Rites of Spring and others; and Fugazi and Rites of Spring drummer Brendan Canty, turning up with the righteous, short-lived Deadline. But beyond its historical interest, it’s also just a collection of killer songs, from Government Issue’s taunting anti-Reagan burst “Hey, Ronnie” to Void’s flailing, off-the-rails “Authority” and Iron Cross gruff youth-movement rallying cry “New Breed.” And while many of the tracks fit the standard hardcore template — nasty, brutish and short — there’s a surprising amount of variety here, including the New Wave–ish guitarwork and arty arrangements of Artificial Peace and the skeletal funk and dub stylings of Red C, which point the way to Fugazi’s mature sound.
The split release is a staple in hardcore, and the album known simply as Faith/Void remains the gold standard: 12 songs apiece from two early heavyweights in the Dischord scene. The strength of the pairing is that the two bands represent utterly distinct approaches to the genre. The Faith match Alec MacKaye’s aggrieved snarl with speedy, power-chord-heavy bursts, performed by a trio of musicians (guitarist Michael Hampton, bassist Chris “Bald” Kirschten and drummer Ivor Hanson) who would later join Ian MacKaye in Embrace. The quartet are masterful when sprinting to the finish line — as on “Trapped,” which tackles the classic hardcore theme of friends you just can’t count on — but even more compelling when they pace themselves, like on “Confusion,” which boasts midtempo passages that feel borderline psychedelic, complete with hypnotic textural riffing and reverb-heavy vocals. Columbia, Maryland’s Void, meanwhile, are all seething energy, with a perpetually flailing rhythm section, John Weiffenbach’s frothing-at-the-mouth vocals and, in Jon “Bubba” Dupree, a startlingly original guitarist who suggests a prescient blend of the Stooges’ Ron Asheton and avant-jazz shredder Sonny Sharrock. On songs like “Who Are You??” (featuring a wild Dupree noise solo) or “Ignorant People” (with its weighty, metallic breakdowns and chaos-courting midsection), they sound like they’re trying to at once perfect hardcore and rend it apart, which they more or less do on “Explode,” the album’s glorious mess of a closer. Taking in all of Faith/Void, it’s easy to hear why it’s been a punk-rock talisman for a broad array of accomplished artists, not just hardcore partisans but the likes of Bill Callahan, the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and even Kurt Cobain, who listed it as “Void/Faith EP” on a posthumously published inventory of his top 50 albums.
The self-titled debut by Rites of Spring is one of those American underground artifacts that’s more often cited for its historical significance than celebrated for its musical brilliance. Yes, Rites of Spring is a key forerunner for what would come to be known as emo, the record that helped introduce future Fugazi members Guy Picciotto and Brendan Canty to the world, and the standout release in the unofficial D.C.-scene changing-of-the-guard known as Revolution Summer, which also birthed Ian MacKaye’s short-lived Embrace. But even isolated from the mythology, the songs themselves still burn white hot. On “Drink Deep,” Mike Fellows’ bass, Canty’s drums and the guitars of Picciotto and Eddie Janney — a late-period member of the Faith — conjure a swirling post-hardcore drone, as Picciotto howls out as though in the throes of some kind of spiritual awakening (“I believe in moments / Transparent moments / Moments in grace / When you’ve got to stake your faith”). On the masterful “For Want Of,” Janney’s searing melodic riffs heighten the urgency of Picciotto’s rueful unpacking of emotional turmoil (“But I woke up this morning / With a piece of past caught in my throat / And then I choked”). The whole record does in fact feel like a revolution, replacing hardcore’s red-faced rant with a kind of ragged existential plea. Punk rock has rarely felt so vulnerable, or so brave.
“You’ll never know the sorrow I felt / Or the hours I’ve laid awake / Thinking about just what you said,” Dave Smalley shouts on “One to Two,” a track from Dag Nasty’s beloved debut, his voice conveying a wounded soul search that, after earlier efforts by Rites of Spring and Embrace, marks a clear turn away from the vociferousness of D.C. hardcore’s first wave. The guileless delivery of Smalley — then a budding punk lifer, who had fronted Boston straight-edge outfit DYS and would go on to post-Descendents project All, Down by Law and more — is an ideal vehicle for the songs’ clear-eyed reckoning with the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood, while the finely honed melodic riffing of Minor Threat alum and future Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker drives home their poignancy. The rage of first-wave hardcore still lingers here (as on the searing “What have we become?” anthem “Justification”), but what comes through more on classic tracks like “Never Go Back” and “Circles” is regret over the mistakes of the past, and the resolve to keep trying to outrun them.
If the Revolution Summer mini movement of 1985 signaled a key shift in the Dischord scene, Fugazi’s emergence was even more momentous, signifying a true graduation out of any kind of orthodox notion of hardcore punk and a forceful declaration about what might come after. The band’s first two EPs, 1988’s Fugazi and 1989’s Margin Walker, compiled into the 13 Songs LP shortly after the latter’s release, were something like the Led Zeppelin I and II of post-hardcore, a one-two punch that found a new band already exhibiting a startling amount of cohesion and confidence. The first EP lacks Guy Picciotto’s combustible guitar work, an important element of Fugazi’s mature sound, but his vocals alone (initially modeled after the hype-man stylings of Flavor Flav) were enough to establish the band’s core duality: the yin-yang contrast between Ian MacKaye’s stoic delivery, rising at climactic moments to an embittered roar, and Picciotto’s feverish emotional outpourings. Their other key pillar was the hand-in-glove chemistry of the band’s ace rhythm team — Picciotto’s former RItes of Spring, One Last Wish and Happy Go Licky bandmate Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, a bassist steeped in classic hard rock and the ‘80s British underground — who found a way to temper the aggression of hardcore with a funky bounce and dub-like throb. The result was a string of instant-classic songs, including the anthemic, sublimely grooving “Waiting Room” and “Bad Mouth”; the seething, hypnotic “Burning” and “Give Me the Cure”; and “Suggestion,” which paired a slinky staccato vamp with a thought-provoking critique of sexual assault and misogyny. Margin Walker found the band expanding in all directions, excelling at urgent, noise-bathed drive on the title track and “Lockdown”; long-fuse post-punk on “And the Same”; and even their brooding, elegant take on a power ballad on “Promises.”
Shudder to Think always seemed like something of an anomaly on the Dischord roster, but to be fair, a band this unabashedly eccentric was never really destined to fit in anywhere. What’s so impressive is how, even several years before they would sign to Epic and release what was arguably their definitive album, the 1994 glam-prog masterpiece Pony Express Record, they already sounded fully evolved. They were a less jagged and forbidding band in 1991, when they issued this, their second Dischord LP and third overall. Only two of the four members from the Funeral at the Movies lineup — vocalist-guitarist Craig Wedren and bassist Stuart Hill — would carry over into the major-label era. In this earlier period, they sounded something like the Dischord answer to R.E.M., with Wedren’s sensuous croon dancing over the refined college-rock–meets–post-hardcore churn he created with Hill, fellow guitarist Chris Matthews, and drummer Mike Russell. The singer climbs from a yearning midrange to a breathy falsetto on enveloping opener “Chocolate” and unleashes his formidable belt during the climax of “Lies About the Sky.” Taking in the heart-on-sleeve jangle of “Day Ditty” or the masterful pacing and progression of sterling hooks of “Red House” — which the band would remake for its second and final Epic LP, 1997’s 50,000 B.C. — it’s not hard to hear why a savvy A&R rep would have taken an interest in the band. A quirky cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic,” included on the original version of the album but cut from the reissue, further emphasizes the band as a free-spirited, impossible-to-pigeonhole outlier.
Even a decade in, Dischord was still helping to launch the careers of future underground heroes. Mary Timony, later of Helium, Wild Flag, Ex Hex and more, and Christina Billotte, who went on to Slant 6, Quix*o*tic and Casual Dots, debuted on the label in the excellent, underrated Autoclave. The band’s two Dischord EPs, co-issued with other labels and later compiled into one release, now seem like a crystal-ball foretelling of the next decade or so of forward-thinking indie rock. Listening now you might hear the seeds of Sleater-Kinney’s spare, artful drive as well as hints of math rock’s wondrous micro-detail in the tendril-like riffs and morse-code rhythms of songs like “Go Far” and “Still Here.” The refinement and subtlety that Timony, Billotte, guitarist Nikki Chapman and drummer Mellissa Berkoff displayed here exemplified how much the label’s aesthetic had evolved since its launch.
The Dischord community largely insulated itself from the alt-rock boom of the early ‘90s, but major labels did successfully woo two key acts from the roster: Jawbox and Shudder to Think, both of whom released superb post-Dischord LPs in 1994 via Atlantic and Epic, respectively. On Jawbox’s final Dischord effort, their sound was already a perfectly calibrated blend of muscle and melody, the lockstep wallop of Kim Coletta’s bass and Adam Wade’s drums offsetting J. Robbins’ gritty yet sing-songy vocal delivery, with then-new member Bill Barbot adding spiny guitar intrigue and tasteful backing vocals. Tracks like “Dreamless” and “Static” are about as beautiful as post-hardcore gets, while others, like “Send Down” and “Tracking,” harness a whiplash intensity that rivals metal-leaning contemporaries like Helmet. The group’s sound would evolve still further on their Atlantic albums — with powerhouse drummer Zach Barocas replacing Wade, who would exit and join up with Jawbox tourmates Shudder to Think — but Novelty remains a jewel of Dischord’s early-‘90s era.
By the early ‘90s, the Dischord roster grew to include bands influenced by Dischord itself. Future Hoover guitarist-vocalist Alex Dunham booked shows for Fugazi in the late ‘80s in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona, and on a 2020 episode of the Washed Up Emo podcast, he recalled how the members encouraged him and his bandmates in local hardcore band Wind of Change to move to D.C. He eventually did, joining up with Joseph McRedmond and Fred Erskine — fellow transplants from Nebraska and Indiana, respectively — as well as Maryland drummer Christopher Farrall. The quartet took obvious cues from Fugazi early on, but by the time they recorded this, their lone LP, they’d evolved into a band just as versatile and distinctive as their pioneering forebears. Hoover exploited textural contrast and a multi-vocal arsenal (Dunham, McRedmond and Erskine traded off at the mic) as well as any band of their era, setting unhinged aggression against supple, dub-informed groove. Every song here is a winner, but “Electrolux,” which builds a mini universe of tension and release atop a mesmerizing 9/4 Erskine bass line across seven gripping minutes, and equally epic closer “Cuts Like Drugs,” which finds the bassist ramping up gradually from a near-croon to a full-on shriek, are true all-timers. Elsewhere, Dunham’s acidic bark drives the tense, throbbing “Father,” McRedmond moves from melodic murmur to anguished shout on “Shut” and sampled crickets provide a soothing backdrop for the elegantly moody instrumental “Route 7.” Overall, this record belongs in the elite tier of alternately unnerving and explosive post-hardcore masterpieces alongside Slint’s Spiderland and Rodan’s Rusty. (Just as impressive is Until the Eagle Grins, the 1996 Dischord debut from the Crownhate Ruin, a Hoover spin-off featuring Erskine and McRedmond.)
Dischord bands cited their sources from the beginning — see the Teen Idles cover of the Stooges “No Fun” or S.O.A. and Minor Threat’s respective takes on rock standard “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.” But Soda Pop * Rip Off, the debut from Christina Billotte’s post-Autoclave outfit Slant 6, went even further in flaunting a love of vintage sounds, while still reflecting the urgency of the moment. It’s an album packed with straight-to-the-point anthems that united the drive of ‘60s garage rock with the defiance of ‘90s feminist punk. “Come on, say something!” Billotte shouts before she, bassist Myra Power and drummer Marge Marshall tear into the monster chorus of opener “Don’t You Ever.” “Time Expired” is another catchy, confrontational burner that finds Billotte railing against a wannabe tough guy, while “Double Edged Knife” slows the tempo slightly to make room for some intricate Autoclave-style guitar filigree. The album has its experimental tinges (see punk-jazz instrumental “March 6”) and reflective moments (the wounded, wrenching “Become Your Ghost”) but overall it’s one of the most rousing, crank-it-up entries in the Dischord catalog. As Billotte later recalled, before recording the LP, she told producer Ian MacKaye, “I want to make a record like this Kinks record! Every single song is good!” And so it was.
There are no weak points in the Fugazi discography, and arguably no truly definitive statements, either. The band’s trajectory was such that each album seemed like the fullest possible realization of their sound, only to have the next one spotlight a whole other facet of their greatness. So the inclusion of Red Medicine here isn’t meant to elevate it above the others, only to highlight the way it encapsulates the band’s capacity for growth. They shine in every register here, from hectic art-punk blare (“Back to Base,” “Downed City”) to moodier, more emotionally exposed tracks (“Forensic Scene” and “Long Distance Runner,” which epitomize, respectively, the yearning pathos in Guy Picciotto’s vocal delivery and the clear-eyed conviction of MacKaye’s) and palate-cleansing instrumental detours (eerie dub excursion “Version,” featuring Picciotto on clarinet, and the bouncy, infectious “Combination Lock”). Elsewhere we get songs that rank among the band’s sludgiest (“By You,” featuring bassist Joe Lally’s first vocal turn with the band), most danceable (“Target”) and most playful (“Birthday Pony”), all enhanced by an exquisite Don Zientara engineering job that perfectly captures the quartet’s road-seasoned chemistry. Red Medicine’s bracing experimental bent paved the way for further sonic adventures on Fugazi’s equally stellar final two full-lengths, 1998’s End Hits and 2001’s The Argument.
With its flashy, mod-chic cover art, Top of the Pops–meets-political-rally MC introduction (“All the way from Chocolate City…”) and overall aura of conceptual mischief, the Make-Up’s debut LP positioned itself far outside the artifice-free zone Dischord was best known for. Three of its four members had staked out similar territory in Nation of Ulysses, an earlier act on the label that came off like Jean-Luc Godard’s idea of a post-hardcore band, couched in leftist revolutionary rhetoric and neo-‘60s style. Joining up with new bassist Michelle Mae, vocalist Ian Svenonius, guitarist-organist James Canty (who had drummed in Ulysses) and drummer Steve Gamboa (switching from bass to drums) took these elements even further, donning matching suits and inventing a so-called “liberation theology” they termed Gospel Yeh-Yeh. The music itself — studio-recorded by Guy Picciotto but positioned as a document of a live performance, complete with fake applause — stands up to the shtick: a swinging soul-punk hybrid topped with Svenonius’ overheated yelp and James Brown–esque squeals. “They Live by Night,” for example, with its flailing, Troggs-y groove and smooth backing vocals from Mae, is pure garagey time-capsule brilliance, while Canty’s organ pushes “So…Chocolatey / Destination Love” into DIY-gospel ecstasy.
Picking a favorite Lungfish album is like picking a favorite Rothko painting. The band’s discography is so wonderfully steadfast, a gradual march toward the realization of one sonic idea, that singling out any particular example seems almost arbitrary. But Artificial Horizon feels like an especially concentrated dose of what this Baltimore band, one of the most prolific on the entire Dischord roster and one of the label’s only non-D.C.-based outfits, concerned itself with across 15-plus years and 11 full-lengths, plus one previously unreleased session that came out years after they’d ceased regular activity. On songs like “Oppress Yourself,” guitarist Asa Osborne, bassist Nathan Bell and drummer Mitchell Feldstein settle into roomy, mantra-like locked grooves, laying out a sort of endless railway for vocalist Daniel Higgs (credited here as Omon Ortsa) to ride, as he delivers what often sound more like mystical sermons than any sort of conventional rock singing. Hypnotic instrumentals like “Truth Cult” and the bizarre guitar-and-voice collage “Slip of Existence” break up the track list, highlighting the relentless drive of full-band selections such as “Shed the World.” As a whole, the album makes a convincing case for Lungfish as a distinct organism within the Dischord ecosystem.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, as Dischord’s foundational late-’80s acts were still going strong, a new crop of bands helped to revitalize the D.C. scene. Along with Q and Not U, El Guapo (later known as Supersystem) and Medications (featuring former members of the thrilling, slightly earlier Dischord act Faraquet), Black Eyes became a standout of the label’s 21st-century roster. As heard on their self-titled debut, they drew fruitfully on the local underground but reached back even further to New York’s late ’70s No Wave and punk-funk vanguard, yielding a humid, insistent din that sounded both danceable and feral. Standout track “A Pack of Wolves” lives up to its name, featuring two basses and two drummers laying down a hectic pulse as vocalists Hugh McElroy and Daniel Martin-McCormick trade manic yelps on top. Elsewhere, “On the Sacred Side” sounds like skeletal industrial, while instrumental track “Nine” conjures images of a wild basement-show jam-out.
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Chad Clark — who also owns Silver Sonya, the Arlington, VA, studio where many Dischord releases have been mastered or remastered — joined the Dischord roster in the mid-‘90s as a member of eclectic post-hardcore outfit Smart Went Crazy. His next project, the still-active Beauty Pill, made its full-length debut with The Unsustainable Lifestyle, an album of subtle, richly textured art pop. Clark’s gentle vocal delivery shines on tracks like “The Mule on the Plane,” a quietly harrowing portrait of a drug courier white-knuckling through a flight, while Rachel Burke’s limpid melodies take the lead elsewhere, as on the engrossing, slow-building “Lifeguard in Wintertime.” Overall the band seems unbounded by style, jamming out on percussion-heavy instrumental rocker “The Western Prayer,” turning down for the melancholy indie-pop balladry of “Nancy Medley, Girl Genius, Age 15” or exploring trip-hoppy beats and samples on “Won’t You Be Mine,” diverse forays that flow together seamlessly. (The Unsustainable Lifestyle saw reissue earlier in 2023 via Ernest Jenning Record Co. comp The Blue Period, which also featured an earlier Dischord EP, You Are Right to Be Afraid.)
Dischord’s early catalog helped to define what American punk rock would look and sound like, but 20-some years on, the label was reminding fans that punk is ultimately a stance, not a style. Case in point: The Evens, whose intimate, almost folklike songs conveyed every bit as much raw defiance as the blistering tirades found on, say, Flex Your Head. The duo of Ian MacKaye and drummer Amy Farina — who had made her Dischord debut in the Warmers, a spare, garage-y mid-’90s trio that also featured Alec MacKaye — debuted during the George W. Bush years, yet the political and social critique found on their excellent second album feels strikingly contemporary. For example, see the duo’s shared refrains of “Washington is our city” and “Everybody knows you are a liar” on “Everybody Knows,” and “What more can we give you?” in surveillance-state lament “All You Find You Keep.” As compelling as their message is, the revelation here is the pair’s sonic chemistry: how MacKaye, playing baritone guitar here, and Farina settle into a sly, fluttering groove; how the pair trade lead vocals with conversational ease; and how Farina’s crisp beats help highlight MacKaye’s way with a low-key earworm, on display throughout his catalog but never sharper than on Get Evens songs like “Cut From the Cloth."
In the 20 years since Fugazi went on indefinite hiatus, its members have been regular presences on the Dischord roster. The Messethetics, a instrumental trio teaming that band’s iconic rhythm team of Joe Lally and Brendan Canty with outside-the-box jazz guitarist Anthony Pirog, officially debuted on the label in 2018, and quickly established themselves as one of the most active projects among the current Dischord squad. The band emerged fully formed on its first, self-titled effort, but this follow-up, arriving just a year later, revealed an even richer group chemistry. Opener “Better Wings” combined the exhilarating drive of classic Fugazi instrumentals like “Arpeggiator” and “Number Five” with Pirog’s dazzlingly fluid shred, while the choppy, metallic “Drop Foot” picked up on the punk-prog tendencies of Black Flag circa 1984. Other tracks, like the noisy, free-form interlude “The Assignment,” slyly funky strut “Pay Dust” and pastoral, slow-building “Because the Mountain Says So,” revealed a band with limitless potential, participating in an inter-genre conversation stretching from 70s ECM to ‘80s SST and beyond.
During the past 15 years or so, Dischord’s fresh output has slowed somewhat, as select new releases have shared calendar space with reissues and archival titles. But the 2022 debut full-length by Hammered Hulls offered a gloriously energized reminder of the continued vitality of the label and the scene that it has helped sustain. The cast of characters here will be a delight to any devotee of Dischord and the wider indie-rock sphere: Alec MacKaye, whose impassioned shout has been heard previously in the Faith, Ignition and the Warmers; Mary Timony on bass, returning to the Dischord fold more than 30 years after entry with Autoclave; guitarist Mark Cisneros, who had previously appeared on label releases by Deathfix and Edie Sedgwick; and drummer Chris Wilson, best known for a long tenure with D.C. mainstays Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. The album is aptly named, as the band’s core register is fierce and flailing, shaded with smart tempo changes and dynamic shifts. There’s a new poignancy in hearing these lifers crash through alternately harsh and elegant songs like “Hardest Road” and “Staggering Genius,” still tending the fire that fueled them in the early days but making space for the wisdom of age.
Newly released as of November 2023, D.C. Special is more than just the first Scream album in three decades. Co-produced by Ian MacKaye, packed with guests from all across the label’s storied roster and recorded by Don Zientara in one of the last sessions ever at the longtime location of his Inner Ear Studio, it feels something like an audio episode of Dischord: This Is Your Life. The lineup heard here — vocalist Pete Stahl, his guitarist brother Franz, bassist Skeeter Thompson and drummer Kent Stax, who sadly died of cancer two months before the album’s release — is the same one that appeared exactly 40 years ago on Dischord No. 9, the band’s amped-up debut, Still Screaming. D.C. Special shows off Scream’s knack for both high-speed hardcore shimmy (“Hel Nah”) as well as the more laid-back melodic side of their sound featured on 1993’s underrated Fumble (“Lifeline Redux”). They also try their hand at heartfelt acoustic folk (“Last of the Soft”) and buoyant reggae (“Tum Tum,” which features guest percussion from ex-Scream-er Dave Grohl, who did a stint with the group in his pre-Nirvana years). Also turning up on various tracks are Fugazi and Messthetics bassist Joe Lally; Amy Pickering, who sang in late-’80s Dischord outfit Fire Party and also coined the term Revolution Summer during her time working at the label; and Jerry Busher, an auxiliary Fugazi member who played in Dischord acts Fidelity Jones, French Toast and Death Fix, and took over live drum duties for Scream following Stax’s passing. There’s a lot going on here, but this isn’t the sprawling hodgepodge it might sound like on paper; instead it comes off as a rousing, bighearted celebration of the solidarity of this tight-knit punk-rock family.