It took me a couple listens to really "get" this album. I'd always heard it connected to the mid-80's Dischord "Revolution Summer" scene, which I personally think kicks ass. I'd heard that the album had been remastered and put on CD with a couple demos and live tracks, along with a few other DC albums from the eighties, so when I found it, I picked it up at the local record joint.
For sort of a backstory, if I recall correctly, Dag Nasty was (Minor Threat guitarist) Brian Baker's band. Dave Smalley, the vocalist, joined after the first vocalist, Shawn, left. This was their first record with Dave.
Well, the album was Can I Say, and it was released in 1986, around the time of Revolution Summer, with bands like Beefeater, Embrace, and Rites of Spring. Dag Nasty was the most hardcore-inflected of the bunch, and the most intense. They got a lot of credit for starting emo, but that's not what I hear here. This is fast, fun, aggressive punk, in classic Dischord style.
Open up the lyric sheet, and you'll find the classic themes of rock: failure and anger, lost love and, well, more anger. There are a lot of questions asked in the lyrics, sort of coming back to the theme of feeling as though you've failed, making mistakes over and over again.
I mentioned that the album was beefed up by the Dischord remastering people, and I think the live tracks are the highlight of the album, tracks like "I've Heard", "Another Wrong", "Trying", and "Justification." Listening to these songs makes me realize that Dag Nasty must have been a fucking unbelievable live band back in the day. The other added track, "My Dog's A Cat" is a lot of fun, but not exactly fitting of the rest of the album.
I've heard Dag Nasty described as a skatepunk band and en emo band, but they are neither. Dag Nasty, at least with this album, Dag Nasty is a fucking punk rock album. This will have a nice long stay in my CD case.