Picture a band that combines the best elements of the Sex Pistols, the Ventures and early Blue Öyster Cult. Got that? Then you’ve got Agent Orange, a Fullerton, California trio who hybridized surf-twang sounds, smart-metal chops and punky drive. Living in Darkness is a short, concise collection of seven originals (like “Bloodstains”) plus an appropriate memory-tweaker: the instrumental classic “Miserlou.” (The Rhino CD reissue has a batch of bonus tracks.) Bitchin’ Summer contains three previously released guitar instrumentals — including an extended “Pipeline” as the 12-inch’s A-side — and a new song. (Both records are contained on one 1981 CD.)
The four songs on When You Least Expect It… display relative restraint, subordinating Mike Palm’s guitar in favor of his echoed vocals on the pop “It’s Up to Me and You.” The two instrumentals are likewise less inflamed, although that doesn’t stop “Out of Limits” from being great. A tepid cover of the Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” however, is a total mistake.
Established high enough in the skate-rock pantheon to offer an official band board for sale, Agent Orange issued This Is the Voice, a dynamic collection of high-energy vocal numbers that benefit greatly from (ex-Berlin) Daniel Van Patten’s crisp electric production. The echo on Palm’s strong voice, the lush guitar roar and the stiff-backed power drumming collectively suggest a slight ’60s/’80s mod influence, but this impressive outing has a sound all its own. The record steers clear of punk overdrive to stand as Agent Orange’s finest and most popular-sounding release.