Dag Nasty

Can I Say

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The only actual album released with vocalist Dave Smalley up front until Four on the Floor years later, Can I Say helps mark a turning point between hardcore's straight-ahead origins and a more accessible approach that would eventually prime the way for 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. Chalk it up to 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 a great vocalist per se, 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.

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