Joe Lally

November 6, 2007

The first ten seconds of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” is all Joe Lally. So in the minds of many, the man can do no wrong.

Primarily known for his work in that seminal band, Joe Lally was one half of Fugazi’s rhythmic backbone, responsible for propelling the band’s improvised sonic experiments forward against massive dueling feedback odds. With Ian MacKaye’s focused political tension in the spotlight, countered by Guy Picciotto’s fluidly rolled R’s flailing on the floor, Lally was oftentimes Fugazi’s refined center.

The opening performance of “Shut the Door” in Jem Cohen’s film, Instrument, is typical Fugazi: Lally is nearly invisible, but his bass playing defines the song. When “Shut the Door” is deconstructed into drums and bell clangs flanked by piercing single notes, it isn’t until Lally resumes playing that the song emerges again as recognizable.

So with Fugazi on a continued indefinite hiatus, Joe Lally returns with his second solo record, Nothing is Underrated (Dischord No. 158). Like his first album, this record again features an amalgam of guest artists, including some of his former band members. It will be released by Dischord Records on November 19, 2007.

Though his arrival on center stage was perhaps less likely than MacKaye’s return with Amy Farina as The Evens, it wasn’t wholly unprecedented. Lally emerged as Fugazi’s third vocalist on their late great album, Red Medicine, and the trend continued on subsequent recordings. During live performances, Lally would re-position between MacKaye and Picciotto for his vocal duties and then quietly recede back to his more familiar position by drummer Brendan Canty.

Lally’s solo music is a more minimalist affair than Fugazi, but it is by no means sparse. It falls closer to the tone of Fugazi’s “The Kill” rather than “By You,” (both which were sung by Lally) but is really something altogether different. Like The Evens, there are certainly elements of Fugazi at work, but after over a decade of work at maximal decibels there is an attempt here to claim newfound power in something more subtle.

Performing in the shadow of Fugazi is no doubt challenging work, but Lally up to the task. “Skin and Bones” sounds as promising as anything from the first record, and at a time when we need activist-artists like Fugazi most, it’s reassuring to have Joe Lally back in play.

Listen: “Day Is Born” from Nothing Is Underrated, and “Lidia’s Song” from There To Here, both available on Dischord Records. You can also hear “Skin and Bones” from Nothing Is Underrated streaming from Dischord.

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