I’ll tell you why I fucking hate my life/ I’ll tell you why I can’t seem to get it right/ I’ll tell you why I entertain the thought of dying all the time
Punk rock being the refuge it is for socially dejected fuck-ups, the genre has expectedly accumulated a fair share of material over its 30-plus years pertaining specifically to feelings of alienation and depression. Black Flag’s”Depression” springs immediately to mind. “Every Night” by Screeching Weasel, “Scary Sad” by ALL, pretty much everything Rudimentary Peni ever recorded. Even über-popsters the Mr. T Experience have covered the phenomenon with surprising frequency (the best example of this being the amazing “Everybody Knows You’re Crying,” hands-down one of the best songs about depression ever penned).
However, no punk band has consistently managed to capture that actual feeling, the actual, visceral, gut-wrenching pain of daily life, and channel it into its aural equivalent as effectively as Off With Their Heads. The Minneapolis quartet performs straightforward, heavy, melodic (dare I say “poppy”) punk rock that exudes a more raw and focused emotional cohesion of lyrics, vocals, and music than probably any band I’ve heard. Every second of every song bleeds frustration and rage. And, as someone whose personal bouts with depression run deep and constant, trust me, these guys have it fucking down.
“Life’s got the best of me/ just wanna drop to my knees/ Scream and punch the concrete until my hands bleed,” bellows frontman Ryan Young on the opening track of the band’s astounding 2006 Hospitals EP (Recess Records), his screams cracking in audible anguish. Yet the melody holds, as catchy as any pop band you could name, through the fury of his screams and the thunderous, pounding roar of the music. “It’s all a fucking joke to me / I wake up and work and get fucked up and sleep/ And then wake up and work and get fucked up all over again.”
(Total aside: It is perhaps surprising that a band like Off With Their Heads can exude so much strained, raw emotion without getting labeled “emo.” Granted, the descriptor really wouldn’t make any sense, as their music is far more akin to My Brain Hurts-era Screeching Weasel than the Get Up Kids `or Hot Water Music or Lifetime or Rites of Spring or Dashboard Confessional or whatever similarly disparate and generally emotionless sound you dumb kids wanna dub “emo” this week`, but it’s not as though said designations ever needed to make sense in the past.)
“Your best bet’s not to get too close to me/ Stay the fuck away, stay out of its reach/ It’ll poison you like it’s been poisoning me.”
Off With Their Heads formed in Minneapolis in 2002, and spent their early years, like most punk bands, cycling through a constantly rotating cast of musicians (save for frontman Young and drummer Justin Francis, who were there from the start). That trend more or less subsided by the time they started building a larger national audience and shedded their last threads of obscurity with releases on Recess Records (the aforementioned Hospitals EP) and No Idea (From the Bottom, their first proper full-length). It seemed the boys had tapped into something genuine, and that there was a whole nation of dejected punks overjoyed (for lack of a better word) to know someone else could relate to their abject misery (or maybe it just felt good for them to know someone else was worse off than they were).
“You don’t know struggle/ You don’t know sorrow/ You don’t know what it’s like/ To have to watch somebody die.”
It’s now July 2010, and things are looking up for Ryan and Off With Their Heads. Their increasing popularity has climbed to a surprising apex with the announcement that their newest record, In Desolation, will become the first actual punk record (i.e. non screamo/metalcore record) released by Epitaph Records (yeah, that Epitaph Records) since the Deviates’ Time Is the Distance back in 2001. Pair that with a more expansive tour than most punk bands even dream of, and a fanbase that grows in size and dedication with the passing of each lonely night, and it’s entirely possible that Ryan and company will find their spirits lifted so much that writing songs with titles like “I Hate My Stupid Ass and I Hope I Get in a Car Accident Tonight” just doesn’t suit them anymore.
Though I certainly hope not. •
Off With Their Heads
6:30pm Sun, Aug 8
The Ten Eleven
1011 Ave. B
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