Take the gloriously distorted melodies of Surf guitar legend Dick Dale and the virile grit of Punk iconoclasts the Dead Kennedys and throw them together into a blender set to its most violent setting. Once the appliance is finished working, the resulting mixture is bound to resemble the sound of Agent Orange, a band that has appropriately covered two of the best-known works of the aforementioned (“Misirlou,” which was most famously done by Dale, and the Kennedys’ original “Police Truck”).
A key cog in the ‘80s Orange County underground, Agent Orange turns 30 years old this year and still tears through dives across the world, bringing their sly songs to life despite the sort of lineup shifts that would kill a lesser group (the current trio is only a quarter of the total amount of band members they’ve had through the years).
This kind of endurance is impressive for an act that’s only made a handful of albums, even if one the albums is an underappreciated Punk Rock classic. Originally released in 1981 on Hollywood label Posh Boy Records, Living in Darkness is a stark portrait of the ‘60s Surf sound seen through a post-Rocket to Russia landscape. With lyrics thick with grim images of addiction, hopelessness and big city sin, guitarist/vocalist/founding member Mike Palm emphasizes that this material was inspired by his own experiences, noting, “Those songs are all about the scene that was going on in Southern California at the time.”
Though Surf Punk has since produced a bevy of great obscure works, it was an aesthetic that never truly caught on and Agent Orange never achieved the same wide-scale notoriety as some of its peers. The closest the band came to the mainstream recently was through an unlikely cameo in “Girl All the Bad Guys Want” by pop-punks Bowling for Soup (a line in the song goes, “She likes the Godsmack and I like Agent Orange”).
Unlike other Punk stalwarts that might take a caustic attitude to the namedrop, Palm deems the mention “sick” and even fondly recalls playing with the band in BfS’s earlier days.
“I still have the flier,” he says.
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