After a decade of polemical, boundary pushing post-hardcore, Jem Cohen’s 1999 documentary Instrument
provided a timely insight into a band that had by then achieved legendary status. For many people, the name Fugazi is synonymous with a fiercely anti-corporate stance, $5 shows, DIY attitude and stern rebukes of concert violence. However, lest we forget, Fugazi were also one of the most important punk bands of the 1990s, producing a string of consistently great albums that deserve to be acknowledged as classics, from the hook-filled, aggressive Repeater
through to the more experimental, fan alienating efforts of Red Medicine
and End Hits
is soundtracked primarily by embryonic versions of the songs that comprised those albums, and even stripped down to its core, the bands songwriting prowess and penchant for interesting guitar interplay is still evident.
Fans of the mellower side of Fugazi should find plenty to appreciate on this record, with the eighteen songs predominately instrumental and shorn of the shouted vocals that dominate most of their albums. Instead, the focus is on sparse, bass driven tracks (think “Sweet and Low” from In On The Killtaker
) with a couple of excursions into the noisier facet of their sound on songs like “Guilford Fall”. The album’s main draw for the die-hard Fugazi fan however is its insight into the bands creative process. Among the highlights in this regard is the early, slow-burning version of Slo Crostic”, which boasts by far the most addictive bassline on the album, and the demo for the eerie, evocative “Pink Frosty”. The standout is Mackaye’s “I’m So Tired”, a beautifully sparse piano ballad that drips with resignation and regret, and evidence of the bands increasing willingness to adopt more melodic elements into their music, a precursor to 2001’s The Argument
As should be expected from an album consisting of demos and outtakes, Instrument Soundtrack
is not without its flaws, and a couple of the songs stray into overly self-indulgent territory. For hardcore fans of the band and their mid to late 90’s era in particular, it should nevertheless count as a must-listen and provides further proof that Fugazi were always a cut above most of their more one-dimensional peers.