No, I'm not going to give away any of the surprises!*
But, on their most cryptic release, NOFX demonstrates that really, maybe they should get more credit as innovators than they have in the past. Designed as either a tool to measure the listener's punk points, or to introduce younger fans to the old guard, NOFX's untitled 2011 EP features the band covering two handfuls of obscure '80s hardcore bands. But the kicker is that the record has no track listing, no credits, and no way of identifying the source of the tunes, leaving the listener to guess and research the source for these '80s thrashers.
As the band tears through minute-long banger after minute-long banger, they exhibit the early energy and vitriol found on the seven-inches with photocopied covers from yesteryear. Remarkably, the band doesn't seem to try to mimic the old-school energy as much as draw from the same source. A lot of modern hardcore, or even throwback hardcore that tries to play in the same form as hardcore's nascent stage seems to not quite have the same snap of the originators. Usually this is due to modern production, which in cleaning off the grime cleans out the soul of the music too; or, the newer bands try to be too hardcore, and end up sounding more metal than energetic.
Somehow, NOFX records in a lo-fi manner and creates an EP that sounds like it really was recorded in 1983, and despite their collective 160 years of age, sound like they are a bunch of 17-year-olds trying their hardest to blow the speaker. In doing so, they balance just the right amount of energy, anger, and fun-times attitude to keep any of those aspects from drowning the other out.
In possibly some sort of meta-commentary, the band has released three versions of the record: a 7", a single-sided 10", and a picture disc 12". Just as the rare pressing of the original hardcore bands have become fetishized into collectibles fetching $400 on eBay, NOFX has fashioned these brand new recordings into collectibles upon their very debut.
But the release seems to operate as more than just a "check out these old tunes we used to like!" Maybe because NOFX surged in popularity in the 1990s, people tend to forget that they played their first show in 1983. Really, NOFX aren't paying tribute to their forefathers as much as they are returning to their roots. NOFX might have been one of the '90s biggest pop-punk bands, but they're also one of the last of hardcore's original front line.
Even more, the ease with which NOFX plays these covers is fascinating. Although NOFX is known for its absolutist take on politics and tales of chemical debauchery, this release underscores the band's willingness to take chances. When more serious bands do unusual things, fans and critics will often comment on how "so and so is pushing the envelope and stretching hardcore to its limits." But when NOFX records 17-minute-long songs, acoustic songs about one's mother dying, or an entire EP recorded in four hours, people go "well, of course they did, it's NOFX."
How weird is it that in using other people's ancient material, NOFX is able to show that despite all their crude humor and simplified politics, they're able to make the argument that really, they've been one of the few punk groups that isn't scared to push forward and ignore the rules that were erected around them.
* - Mostly because I don't know most of the tunes to begin with.