13 Songs

13 Songs

Fugazi came together in 1986, not long after Ian MacKaye—a vocalist, guitarist, and hardcore pioneer—parted ways with Embrace, a lively mid-tempo punk act that had broken up after less than a year. Afterward, MacKaye teamed up with Joe Lally, a bass player who’d roadied with the D.C. act Beefeater. The two began fleshing out songs, and though it took some time to finalize Fugazi’s lineup, MacKaye and Lally eventually teamed with drummer Brendan Canty and guitarist and vocalist Guy Picciotto. All four musicians had been part of the politically charged, musically adventurous punk scene that had sprung up in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, giving rise to acts like Minor Threat and Rites of Spring—bands that lasted only a few years, but would influence the sound and ethos of punk for decades to come. For many listeners, Fugazi’s 13 Songs would serve as a crucial intro to the D.C. sound. Released in 1989, it collects the band’s first two EPs, starting with 1988’s Fugazi. Those first seven songs—written mostly by MacKaye during the band’s first year, and produced by D.C. legend Ted Niceley—were recorded before Picciotto added his cutting Rickenbacker guitar to the mix. But these early tracks nonetheless feel fully formed, driven by Fugazi’s abstract yet topical lyrics, and a sound that incorporates everything from reggae to The Stooges: “Waiting Room” reflects MacKaye’s frustrations with being on the musical sidelines for a few years, while the Picciotto-sung “Give Me the Cure” takes aim at the AIDS crisis. “Suggestion,” meanwhile, takes a complex look at sexual harassment, and the extraordinary “Glue Man”—a fan-favorite that often closed the band’s mesmerizing live shows—morphs from an observation of a drug addict to a galaxy-brain jam. The Fugazi EP remains a remarkable first effort. And it’s a testament to the strength of the band’s songwriting that Fugazi’s seven songs pair so perfectly with the tracks from 1989’s Margin Walker EP. Produced with traditional rock-band slickness by longtime band ally John Loder, Margin Waker hints at a new and more powerful phase for the band. You can hear their ever-growing dynamism on the fiery title track, as well as cuts like “And the Same” (which addresses the complexity of movements versus individuals) and “Burning Too” (a warning of the world’s coming environmental chaos). It all ends with “Promises”—a track that closes out not just the Margin Walker EP, but also 13 Songs. It’s a song that espouses the importance of actions over words—and over the course of Fugazi’s years-long run, few bands’ actions would speak louder. 13 Songs is more than just an essential punk primer; it’s one of the greatest rock albums of all time.

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