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Can I Say

Dag Nasty

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Album Review

The only actual album released with original vocalist Smalley up front until Four on the Floor years later, Can I Say in ways helps mark a turning point between hardcore's straight-ahead origins and a more accessible — but just enough — approach that would eventually prime punk's breakthrough in the mid-'90s. Baker's roots in Minor Threat are clear throughout, but at the same time the production, assisted by Ian MacKaye, is actually stronger and crisper than much of that band's work. Call it time or better facilities, but Dag Nasty rocks in a full, smack-out-of-the-speakers way with unbridled energy. Smalley, meanwhile, has a vocal delivery halfway between strident pronouncement and anguished reflection — it's not emo in the original sense of the term (or alternately, the late '90s watering down of same), but it's a careful balance just the same. He's not per se a great vocalist, but he does make a commanding frontman, while his lyrics grapple with personal politics in a winning, thoughtful way. The sentiments may not be original, but he phrases them well, never losing sight of the fact that he's singing them and not reciting modern poetry or the like. When the band as a whole just cranks the amps and runs straight ahead with the usual crunch, things are energetic enough without being distinguished. But when Baker tries for something more honestly anthemic, the rhythm section follows along well, while Smalley matches the rise perfectly. Check out "Circles," which starts normally enough before shifting into more affecting musical gears a minute in, or the fine "Never Go Back." There's some good if rough call-and-response vocals on "What Now?," the rhythm section in general does the needed job throughout the album, and in the end it all succeeds pretty damn well.

Biography

Formed: 1985

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Dag Nasty kept roaring D.C.-styled hardcore alive during the mid-'80s. Although the group was more accessible and melodic than Minor Threat, it never lost its bracing, blistering edge. Formed by former Minor Threat and Meatmen guitarist Brian Baker and ex-DYS vocalist Dave Smalley, Dag Nasty recorded their first album, Can I Say (1986), with D.C.-punk guru Ian MacKaye assisting on the production. The following year, Smalley left the group; he was replaced by Peter Cortner, who added more pop elements...
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Can I Say, Dag Nasty
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