Repeater & 3 Songs

Repeater & 3 Songs

In 1989, the members of Fugazi played new material for Ted Niceley, the D.C. scene-shaper who’d produced the group’s breakthrough EP. The musicians were skeptical when they saw Niceley had shown up to the listening sessions with a pen and paper, ostensibly to take notes. But they were heartened after the set, when they realized Niceley hadn’t written anything down. “[Ted said], ‘You have perfect songs,’” recalled singer and guitarist Ian MacKaye. “I was blown away by it.” The band soon headed into the studio with Niceley, recording a trio of songs: The moody instrumental “Joe #1,” the raging anthem “Break-In,” and “Song #1,” a sort of punk-scene mission statement that remains one of MacKaye’s savviest songs. Those three tracks would be released as a single, and, eventually, they’d wind up on Repeater, Fugazi’s stellar 1990 sophomore album. Repeater came together not long after co-vocalist Guy Picciotto joined the band on guitar, and his trebly Rickenbacker would soon become a crucial part of Fugazi’s sonic attack. But it wasn’t the only noticeable shift in the band’s sound: The album’s title track—about the surge of gun violence in the band’s hometown of Washington, D.C.—features squealing riffs and thunderous drums that were inspired by Public Enemy’s abrasive hit “Rebel Without a Pause.” Meanwhile, the lyrics on Repeater alternate between impressionism (“What a difference a little difference would make” from “Blueprint”) and in-your-face bluntness (“I've got this nasty habit/When I need something I just reach out and grab it” from the title track). Repeater closes with “Shut the Door,” a heartrending account of an overdose, featuring one of MacKaye’s most powerful vocals—so intense, Niceley said it made him want to hide under a table during recording—as well as some of his most elegant lyrics (“I broke the surface so I can breathe/I close my eyes so I can see/I tie my arms to be free/Have you ever been free?”). It’s a riveting send-off for this across-the-board powerful album—a landmark in 1990s rock.

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