Gag - America's Greatest Hits (Cover Artwork)


America's Greatest Hits (2016)

Iron Lung Records

The debut full-length from Olympia’s foremost weirdos is the perfect conglomeration of their entire oeuvre up until this point. Appropriately titled America’s Greatest Hits, the record encapsulates the hallmarks of Gag’s hardcore aesthetic that has been built over the course of their previous cassette and EP releases. Taking into account their previous releases' titles like "Skimask '95," 40 oz. Rule '90" and "Gas Mask '95," Gag's LP presents both a nostalgia and respect of US hardcore tradition while also sardonically pointing out how serious hardcore can take itself.

The band does take the idea of the “greatest hit” and present it clearly in their conception of hardcore music; this album is notably traditional in its song structures and riffs. Nothing here will necessarily surprise the listener. What Gag provides is an LP of the various conventions of hardcore: brutal, fast songs, mid-paced ragers, and the occasional lead lick that have become staples of the scene since the beginning. What sets the group apart from other contemporary bands is in the playfully absurd presentation of both the music and the atmosphere that the record exudes. The sardonic wit comes through most in the interplay of the traditional hardcore song construction with the completed demented vocal delivery. The vocals themselves are not brutal in terms of metal or the extreme spectrum of hardcore. Instead, they gain their appeal from the way they spew out and are drenched in never-ending reverb. While the continual use of reverb on the vocals may not sound appealing, for Gag, it works. Working along with the reverb and delivery, the lyrics become indecipherable, leading to the vocals functioning more like a an instrument to add a distinguishing, harsh atmosphere to the songs. In addition to the different vocals, the lyrics also play on the absurdity and humor of the group. The song “It’s Just Me” opens with the lines "There's no justice…there’s no justice…just me,” calling to mind “Blind Justice” by Agnostic Front but playing with the message of unity espoused in that classic track, transforming into hedonistic anthem that plays with the tropes of hardcore: brotherhood and unity become instead individualism and unity.

Ironically using traditional hardcore song writing and adding inverting these typical hardcore tropes define Gag’s musical statement. Much of these songs play as what could constitute the “greatest hits” of hardcore, but Gag also differentiate themselves through unique quirks and playful interplay between what one expects of hardcore and how much this can be taken too seriously. The end result is an album that will both satisfy the listeners desire for the genre while also positing it in a different context.