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JFA (Buy CDs by this artist)
Blatant Localism EP (Placebo) 1981
Valley of the Yakes (Placebo) 1983
JFA (Placebo) 1984
Mad Garden EP (Placebo) 1984
Live (Placebo) 1985
Nowhere Blossoms (Placebo) 1988

These Phoenix, Arizona skate-punks — the name was originally an acronym for Jodie Foster's Army — are major figures on the Southwest hardcore scene. Besides touring extensively and releasing lots of records, their Placebo label is the most active outlet in the area, and has issued discs by a number of cool underground bands.

Blatant Localism is a 7-inch whose six songs race along cohesively at warp speed with vocals that mostly defy comprehension. There's an eponymous number explaining the group's name, a relatively prolix exposition on "Beach Blanket Bong-Out" and a four-second display of counting. Valley of the Yakes stretches fifteen songs out to fill a 12-inch, slowing things down in spots, but not doing much to increase vocal articulation. Still, a crisp, well-played slice of hardcore with real drive and commitment, plus two great, normal-sounding, reverb-splattered surf-guitar instrumentals: "Walk Don't Run" and "Baja." (One CD contains both records.)

JFA exposes increased sophistication and wit, starting with a backwards snippet called "Deltitnu" and continuing by tempering the thrash with variety, understatement and other interesting digressions. In a fit of major cleverness, JFA crash the Ventures into the Dead Kennedys for "Pipetruck" and cover both David Bowie and George Clinton during the course of the album. (JFA's funky-butt turn on the latter's "Standin on the Verge" is nifty.) A bit unfocused, but much more than a simple hardcore record. Standout track: "The Day Walt Disney Died." (The CD also includes the Mad Garden EP that followed JFA.)

Mad Garden, a four-song 12-inch with a wrestling cover and a new bassist in the lineup, encompasses more-or-less straight speedrock plus one milder (non-surf) instrumental with singer Brian adding keyboards. The live album was recorded in 1984, at gigs in New York and Pittsburgh.

Adding acoustic guitar, more keyboards (piano/organ) and pacifistic lyrics, JFA (with old bassist Mike C. back in the fold) grew up on Nowhere Blossoms, an album of tight, occasionally pretty rock that rarely cruises anywhere near punk power. As excellent as the music is, the lower noise threshold leaves the rough, tune-shy vocals glaringly inadequate. (He does fine on a completely straight horn-based rendition of James Brown's "I Feel Good," however.) Proving they haven't outgrown their bratty sense of humor, JFA includes a complete (and great) rendition of the classic "Signifyn' Monkey" sung a cappella by some old man on a Chicago street corner.

[Ira Robbins]