Years ago, the lore of Dischord Records and Washington, D.C.-area punk filtered down into the vocabulary of a worldwide audience that avidly locked onto terms like straight-edge and emo, both slang and now genre, that stemmed from a clustered scene jolting the music world in the early years of the 1980s. The Faith was a bit of both: a gritty, nuanced “heartcore” punk band with succinct, potent lyrics that emoted irascible punk sentiments long before emo became just another overplayed youth brand.
Dischord’s new Subject to Change Plus Demos collection combines both demos recorded prior to the Faith’s split LP with Void and a re-issue of its superb Subject to Change EP, coveted by fans, enthusiasts, and critics as a bedrock slab of Washington D.C. hardcore (promulgated as “harDCore”). To this end, people routinely point out that singer Alec MacKaye’s trademark warbly howl is often overlooked in favor of another MacKaye—brother Ian, the gruff singer for Minor Threat.
Minor Threat’s barreling tunes invoked everything including incisive punk placards (“Stand Up and Be Counted”), re-imagined and retrofitted rock ’n roll classics (“Steppin’ Stone”, “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White”), unbottled rage (“Seeing Red”, “Screaming at a Wall”), and self-referential irony (“Minor Threat” “Cashing In”). The Faith’s tune—not quite as nimble, but equally ferocious—feature a more plaintive (hence, the emo tag) side of punk’s lyrical underbelly, condensed into under-two-minute songs that feel like a blast furnace.
Replete with the murky, layered, and twin-powered hypnotic guitar crunch of Michael Hampton and Eddie Janney, which feels blistery, the remastered Subject to Change tracks amount to high-marks in East Coast underground music history. While “Aware” and “Say No More” are a bit slower (a la the speed of U.K. Subs) than typical cookie-cutter hardcore mania circa 1983, they prove that mood, syncopation, raw harmonies, build-ups, and taut terseness can congeal into pitch-perfect forms. Meanwhile, in lines from “Say No More”, MacKaye leans into the listener’s bald ear, invoking pleas for common sense humanity (“How you treat me / Is how I treat you . . . The blame lies within”). The hand claps at the end deliver a surprise, like a nod to pop in the middle of shrapnel.
Sure, blitzkrieg tunes also burst here and there across the album, like the tensely coiled “Limitations” and “No Choice”, both of which rail against conventions and limitations (“What kind of world is this?”) that compel people to conform against their will. Freedom is at stake, and each line of the songs probes that problem with heated diligence, including people’s tendency to make excuses. However, for years my favorite has been the tender explosity of “Untitled” (“The feeling’s real, but it’s untitled”), which really explains all the moments when words escape my tongue, especially as my body is flushed with feeling. Sometimes words fail, MacKaye intones via haiku precision.
Then title track “Subject to Change” sets the tone of the debate. Punk should not box in, categorize, or force people to suffer some tunnel vision precepts. Punk is about adapting, changing, and shifting, allowing flexibility and freedom, not orthodoxy (“Subject to change what I say . . . subject to change what I do . . . and so are you”). MacKaye resembles a tradition-bearer carrying forward the dictum of Walt Whitman, who exclaimed, “I contain multitudes.” MacKaye further explored this, intelligently, by forging bands like Ignition and the Warmers, who expanded the definition and style of punk while sometimes inviting wrath and judgment from purists.
The demo tracks reveal recordings that are slightly rougher and rawer replicas of their previously released counterparts, down to the very exact length, give or take a few seconds. Don’t expect any longer takes, unearthed guitar solos, impromptu jams, or studio gibber jabber, like the material discovered for the Government Issue re-issues last year. Still, they emit poignancy and power. More importantly, a different version of “In the Black” pops up. This tune links the band to earlier Brit-punk tendencies and locals like Black Market Baby, as does the opener “It’s Time”.
While fakers and pretenders will still shrug off the band, and many fans will desire more than just rehashed old catalog tracks (where are the live tracks? basement tapes?), the quality of the re-mastering and packaging on Subject to Change Plus Demos will at least sate some people, like me, who yearn for a hardcore punk era that seems more authentic, spirited, and community-oriented than the current digital dynasty.